The study, carried out by UCLA researchers, is based on independent climate forecasts for the years 2040 to 2059.
Lead researcher, Laurence C. Smith, a professor of geography at UCLA, said the development is both exciting from an economic development point of view and worrisome in terms of safety, both for the Arctic environment and for the ships themselves.
The researchers found that by mid-century, even ordinary shipping vessels will be able to navigate previously inaccessible parts of the Arctic Ocean, and they will not need icebreakers to blaze their path as they do today.
The Arctic ice sheet is expected to thin to the point that polar icebreakers will be able to navigate between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by making a straight shot over the North Pole.
Even the treacherous Northwest Passage - which is theoretically navigable only one out of seven years - is expected to become more viable for Polar Class 6 vessels - a common type of ship that has been strengthened against ice.
The unprecedented new navigation routes that are expected to open up could allow shipping companies to sidestep escort fees and other Russian regulations.
The increasing viability of shipping routes through the Arctic is also likely to increase pressure on the U.S. to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Some newly accessible shipping lanes would pass through waters over which the U.S. could make internationally accepted sovereignty claims if it ratified the treaty, the researchers said.