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Northeast passage

The Northeast Passage is the seaway north of Asia between the Barents Sea and the Bering Strait. The vast majority of the route lies in Arctic waters and parts are only free of ice for 2 months per year. Therefore it was not until 1878 when Swedish explorer Nordenskjold made the first successful attempt to completely navigate the Northeast Passage from west to east. Only in 1915 made a Russian expedition the passage in reverse direction.

The motivation to navigate the Northeast Passage was initially economical. In the first millennium the Vikings were looking to expand their territory and for furs and ivory.

In the 16th century Northern European countries like England, Holland, Denmark and Norway hoped to find an alternative seaway to China and India. Although these expeditions failed new coasts and islands were discovered. Most notable is the 1596 expedition lead by Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz who discovered Jan Mayen, Spitsbergen, Bear Island and Novaya Zemlya.

Cape Chelyuskin, the northern-most point of both the passage and the Eurasian continent was reached from the west in 1742 and named after its discoverer. Vitus Bering, the first western explorer of the Pacific and Arctic coasts of Siberia had found the Bering Strait seperating Asia and America in 1728 but made no further advance along the North Siberian coast.

Nordenskjold, Nansen, Amundsen and others ran expeditions mainly for scientific and cartographic reasons.

Russia officially opened the Northern Sea Route in 1930 for commercial purposes and it is still in use today although its contribution on a global scale is very limited.