Climate Change in the Far North

Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, produced by human activity, has caused Arctic ice to melt more rapidly. This gas keeps more heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, leading to rising air temperatures – the greenhouse effect. Since 1979, the region has lost 44% of its summer sea ice.

Edges of the sea ice harbor abundant life. The loss of polar ice reduces the size of a critical life-sustaining habitat.

Top: Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Extent, 1979; Bottom:Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Extent, 2012; Images courtesy of NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio

Greenland’s vast ice sheet is also vulnerable to climate change. Most recently, scientists determined that Greenland is losing five times as much ice annually as it did in the 1990s.* This water flows directly into the ocean, contributing to rising sea levels.

The meltdown of ice directly impacts native peoples, who experience climate change every day. Most dramatically, increasing coastal erosion that results from the loss of the protective sea ice barrier and melting permafrost has forced Aboriginal communities from their ancestral homelands.

*Reported in the journal Science, November 23, 2012.

“There is a very real possibility that in only a few decades the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free in the summer, for the first time in fifty-five million years.’

– Henry Pollack, geophysicist and author of A World Without Ice

Top Banner Image: Tiina Itkonen, Uummannaq 6, 2010, C- print