Many companies, for example, have already begun shipping goods from Shanghai, China to Hamburg, Germany through the Bering Strait and along Russia's Northern coast. That route is about 3,800 miles shorter than the more southern trip through the Suez Canal. If traffic through the strait continues to grow as expected, it will earn its newest nickname: the next Panama Canal.
The ramifications of this global shift to the North are complex, to say the least. Alaska, for one, stands to benefit dramatically, especially if a proposed deep-water port is funded in Nome. The small frontier town lies on the Bering Sea just south of the strait, and could become a major stopping-off point for ships transiting the North. And with oil prices as low as they are, leaders in Alaska are looking to diversify the state's economy.
"We take advantage of the resources we have, but geography is perhaps our greatest resource," Nome's mayor, Richard Beneville, told Seeker recently. "And we need to take advantage of that too because the world is coming here."
More complicated is the fact that humans aren't the only species that relies on the Bering Strait: Numerous whale, seal, and other marine species use the strait to pass between parts of the Bering and Chuchki seas, just as we do. More shipping means that those species, and commercial interests, will operate in very close quarters.
And finally, the geopolitics of the region could get prickly. No one nation owns the strait itself - but both Russia and the United States have a vested interest in maintaining influence there. Passage through the Panama and Suez canals is expensive, whereas the Bering Strait is free, so it stands to reason that both nations may want to act as gatekeepers however they're able.
There's clearly a lot of opportunity, and money, surfacing in the far North. And as the world looks to the Arctic, all interested nations will need to buy into an unprecedented level of cooperation to ensure that changes there are handled smoothly, safely and respectfully.