2011 summer barge hauls begin at Red Dog

From the from the Arctic Sounder

The summer shipping season began Monday at one of the world's largest zinc mines, in a record-early start thanks to melting ice.

Barge deliveries from Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska typically begin about Independence Day, once the Chuckchi Sea ice has backed off.

But the hauling has started earlier than ever two of the last three years.

In 2009, the season began on June 30. This year, it was another record, with the season starting June 28.

"It was definitely the earliest we've ever begun," said Wayne Hall, community and public relations manager for mine operator Teck Alaska.

Still, the recent early starts don't necessarily indicate a trend. Last year, operations began July 3.

The barge Kivalina began ferrying the zinc concentrate in several loads from the mine's port to an ocean-going barge a few miles out where the sea is not so shallow. From there, the concentrate - this ship will carry 52,000 metric tonnes - heads to the company's smelter in Trail, British Columbia. Eventually, the zinc will be used for rust-protection in galvanized steel.

Read more at the Arctic Sounder