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