Climate Change and the Arctic

Climate Change and the Arctic

The impacts of climate change are already evident in the Arctic. As stated in a 2011 USGS report evaluating oil exploration in the Arctic, “Climate change is impacting physical, biological, and social conditions in the Arctic and affecting all resource-management strategies. Climate conditions in the Arctic have been undergoing remarkable changes, particularly during the last 20 years.”

One of these remarkable changes was observed in 2012: the lowest level of Arctic sea ice retreat on record. Sea ice retreat is more complex than ice simply covering less surface area than before. While ice coverage has declined by 40% since satellite data began in 1979, over that same period the ice has thinned in volume by more than 70%. In the light of the measurements from 2012, scientists are now changing their predictions on the date for the complete loss of summer sea ice. Once that date was thought to be by the end of this century; conservative estimates now have that event occurring by mid-century. The most pessimistic estimates predict we could see a summer free of ice by the end of the decade.

Loss of sea ice cover and volume equates to longer portions of the year when commercial opportunities are viable. Two industries will benefit from this prospect. Oil producers are one. Lack of ice will allow for the exploration of new oil fields and the installation of oil rigs that will extract crude oil from off-shore sites.

Trans-continental shippers will benefit also, as routes like the Northwest Passage (NWP), Northern Sea Route (NSR), and, potentially, the Transpolar Sea Route (TSR) open up for a longer portion of the year. For the first time in modern human history, the fabled Northwest Passage may soon become an annual reality. As the extent of Arctic sea ice continues to recede farther and farther from the various continental shelves, for longer stretches of the year, the entire region is opening up to commercial possibilities.

 

There are several resources for this lesson. Many focus on statistics about changing sea ice extent while others describe political and economic potential for the changing Arctic. Look for key words in the resource summaries to find the resources that match your need.

 

PHOTO CREDIT: The Arctic Institute: http://www.thearcticinstitute.org/p/maps.html

Lesson Take Away: 

Changing levels of sea ice introduce probabilities of increased oil drilling and transportation across the Arctic Ocean.

Last Updated: January 10, 2014
Arctic ice extent loss can be seen dramatically in the following interactive image from NASA comparing the sea ice minimum in 2012 to the minimum in 1984.

NASA: "Visualizing the 2012 Sea Ice Minimum"

Arctic ice extent loss can be seen dramatically in the following interactive image from NASA comparing the sea ice minimum in 2012 to the minimum in 1984.

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Watch a model showing changes of Arctic sea ice concentration over thirteen years. Notice the differences between autumn and spring extents. NASA satellites using microwaves recorded the data for these models.

NASA: "Arctic Sea Ice"

Watch a model showing changes of Arctic sea ice concentration over thirteen years. Notice the differences between autumn and spring extents. NASA satellites using microwaves recorded the data for these models.

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Interested in models of Arctic sea ice for the future? Check out NOAA's estimate of sea ice loss in the next thirty years. See visuals on how the volume and age of sea ice has changed over the last twenty years.

NOAA: "Will the Arctic be free of summer ice in 30 years?"

Interested in models of Arctic sea ice for the future? Check out NOAA's estimate of sea ice loss in the next thirty years. See visuals on how the volume and age of sea ice has changed over the last twenty years.

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Want to see the most current data of sea ice extent in the Northern Hemisphere? The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) display a map with the current extent of sea ice and recent data from the last four weeks as part of MASIE (Multisensory...

NSIDC: MASIE (Multisensor Analyzed Sea Ice Extent)

Want to see the most current data of sea ice extent in the Northern Hemisphere? The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) display a map with the current extent of sea ice and recent data from the last four weeks as part of MASIE (Multisensory Analyzed Sea Ice Extent).

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Ice volume loss graphs are beautifully animated in the following video from Andy Lee Robinson. Visualize the decline of minimum sea ice volume from 1979 to 2013.

"Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Volumes 1979-2013"

Ice volume loss graphs are beautifully animated in the following video from Andy Lee Robinson. Visualize the decline of minimum sea ice volume from 1979 to 2013.

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Want to communicate changes of Arctic sea ice extent with a younger audience? Check out the virtual fieldtrip “Meltdown,” developed by the Alaska SeaLife Center. “Meltdown” focuses on researchers studying how sea ice algae influence the Bering Sea...

Alaska SeaLife Center: Virtual Field Trip - "Meltdown"

Want to communicate changes of Arctic sea ice extent with a younger audience? Check out the virtual fieldtrip “Meltdown,” developed by the Alaska SeaLife Center. “Meltdown” focuses on researchers studying how sea ice algae influence the Bering Sea ecosystem. Look at the background information tab and watch the video, “The Science of Sea Ice.” This virtual field trip was written for 5-8th graders, so you may find some helpful wording and framing to the issue of sea ice loss for that audience.

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In March 2010, the former Secretary of the Interior, asked the USGS, "to conduct an initial, independent evaluation of the science needs that would inform the Administration’s consideration of the right places and right ways in which to develop oil...

USGS: "An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska" (2011)

In March 2010, the former Secretary of the Interior, asked the USGS, "to conduct an initial, independent evaluation of the science needs that would inform the Administration’s consideration of the right places and right ways in which to develop oil and gas resources in the Arctic OCS (Outer Continental Shelf), particularly focused on the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas." The fact sheet that summarized the extensive, nearly 300 page, USGS report can be found here. It includes a discussion of how climate change should factor into decision making about Arctic drilling.

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Here is the text for the "National Strategy for the Arctic Region" from May 10, 2013 from the Office of the President of the United States. This document discusses the US concern over security, economic interests and environmental concerns with a...

"National Strategy for the Arctic Region"

Here is the text for the "National Strategy for the Arctic Region" from May 10, 2013 from the Office of the President of the United States. This document discusses the US concern over security, economic interests and environmental concerns with a changing Arctic. The article is organized around three main lines of effort: security interests, stewardship and international cooperation.

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It is crucial that one understands the oil exploration, extraction and transportation potential for the Arctic Ocean. This potential is illustrated well with the following map showing locations of undiscovered oil in units of billions of barrels.

Map of Undiscovered Oil in the Arctic

It is crucial that one understands the oil exploration, extraction and transportation potential for the Arctic Ocean. This potential is illustrated well with the following map showing locations of undiscovered oil in units of billions of barrels.

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If you are interested in the economics and politics of Arctic shipping, read “The Future of Arctic Shipping along the Transpolar Sea Route” by Malte Humpert and Andreas Raspotnik of the Arctic Institute. This 27 page report from the 2012 Arctic...

Arctic Institute: "The Future of Arctic Shipping along the Transpolar Sea Route"

If you are interested in the economics and politics of Arctic shipping, read “The Future of Arctic Shipping along the Transpolar Sea Route” by Malte Humpert and Andreas Raspotnik of the Arctic Institute. This 27 page report from the 2012 Arctic Yearbook investigates the Transpolar Sea Route and the climatic, political and economic factors that would influence its use and success.

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