On August 16, 2016, a cruise ship called the Crystal Serenity departed from Seward, Alaska. The price for a place on its month-long voyage started at $22,000, but the Serenity had no trouble filling its berths: 1,700 people signed up to take part in the first-ever passenger cruise through the Northwest Passage, the straits and sounds that for centuries had tempted and foiled even the hardiest captains and crews. Climate change has so dramatically shrunk the Arctic’s sea ice that the Serenity, with the help of a single icebreaker, was able to make short work of the Northwest Passage. Its passengers sailed smoothly through the polar sunshine, untroubled by fears of an icy death.
Just a week after the uneventful completion of the Crystal Serenity cruise, news broke that an Arctic Research Foundation team, acting on a tip from an Inuk crewmember, had documented the wreck of the HMS Terror in the Canadian Arctic. The ship had last been seen in 1845, when it was part of Sir John Franklin’s famously ill-fated attempt to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage; the Terror and its sister ship became locked in sea ice in Victoria Strait, and all 129 crewmembers, including Franklin himself, froze or starved to death.