Increased interest in Arctic port plans as ice melts

The Port of Nome’s inner harbor. Credit: Yereth Rosen

As ice melts around the Bering strait – the body of water separating the USA and Russia – the Alaskan city of Nome plans to expand its existing port into the only deep-water port in United States Arctic waters.

The mayor of Nome, Richard Beneville, hopes the port expansion will serve as a full-service support centre for vessel traffic passing through the strait.

While the port of Nome is situated south of the Arctic circle, it is closer than the current full-service deep water port that US vessels rely on, 1,600 km away, the Dutch Harbour at the Aleutian Island of Unalaska.

Joy Baker, port director of Nome, commented, “Putting a deep water port in Nome is a critical piece of the existing opportunities in the Arctic, in my opinion, because there’s no deep-water port north of Dutch Harbour.”

Nome has a population of 3,800 people, with an airport, hospital and commercial centre, placing it in good stead to become a future regional hub.

The port has already drawn the attention of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Through a process of elimination it was deemed the most appropriate site to be the first deep water US Arctic port.

The corps drafted an initial plan in May 2019 to double an existing causeway of 914 m and build a second causeway of the same distance. The seafloor would be dredged, lowering the current depth of 7 m to 12 m, to accommodate larger vessels traveling through the region.

The corps will release a finalised version of the port study later in the year, with approval from Congress and added investment, construction is expected to begin mid-2020 at an estimated cost of USD500 million.