On Monday, the Canadian Coast Guard is preparing to send one its research vessels, the Amundsen, through the Northwest Passage with about 40 scientists on board.
Equipped with a remotely operated robot submarine and a sonar system, the ship will undertake a detailed survey of the sea-bed - essential if the waterway is to become more open to commercial shipping.
Researchers on board also hope to study the changing patterns of the ice - not only the ice that grows and retreats with the seasons but also the far thicker multi-year ice which drifts with the Arctic currents and poses the most serious threat to any vessels.
A British team on board will study the sediment on the sea-bed to hunt for a chemical record of changes in the ice stretching back for the past thousand years - a vital task to help understand the likely rate of change in the future.
BBC News will join the ship for its journey through the Northwest Passage.