The Arctic Circle
 the northern
 regions of
 The Russian
  it includes
  most of
Kalaallit Nunaat.

At the
center is the
  large, deep,
 Arctic Ocean.
Arctic poppy (Papaver radicatum), thought to be the most northerly growing flower in the world, this poppy has grown on a rare patch of more fertile ground at the southern end of Humboldt glacier, which is situated in Kane Basin in north Greenland July 25, 2009.


Arctic poppy (Papaver radicatum).
Thought to be the most northerly growing flower in the world, this poppy grown on a rare patch of more fertile ground at the southern end of Humboldt glacier.
Kane Basin, north Greenland, July 25, 2009.
Photo: Greenpeace/Handout

Jellyfish floating under Arctic Ocean.

Voyage To Inner Space.

Photo The Times
Jellyfish floating under Arctic Ocean
Photo The Times
The Arctic Circle includes the islands of Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean north of mainland Europe, about midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole
The Arctic Circle includes the islands of Franz Joseph Land, an archipelago located in the far north of Russia.   It consists of 191 ice-covered islands with a total area of 16,134 km². It has no native inhabitants
The Arctic Circle includes Severnaya Zemlya an archipelago in the Russian high Arctic at 79°29N 97°19E.  Situated off mainland Siberia's Taymyr Peninsula across the Vilkitsky Strait.   Severnaya's permafrost prevents it from having any trees.
The Arctic Circle includes Noveya Zemiya Archipelago, used both as an underground test-site for nuclear weapons and for atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics — as South Pacific atolls were used by the United States, France and the United Kingdom for their atmospheric testing.   Underwater nuclear experiments have continued since the island returned to, or became territory of the Russian Federation.
Noveya Zemiya Archipelago presently has close to a hundred indigenous Nenets people that fish and hunt polar bear and seal.
The Arctic Circle also encompasses northern areas of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), Canada, Alaska — a state of the United States, and the Arctic Sea.
Arctic is from the Latin word arcticus, which is from the Greek arktikos meaning northern.
The word was used by the ancient Greeks when they looked up to the northern heavens.
It meant: pertaining to the constellation of the Bear.
It came from their word for bear: arktos.
A precise meaning by scientists of which areas comprise the Arctic is varied, but a more defining point, the Arctic Circle, has come to be recognised as anything north of latitude 66° 32 N.
This is the spot where technically the sun never sets on June 21, the summer solstice, and the sun never rises on December 21.
Given this definition the Arctic Circle varies by 2.5 degrees of latitude on a 40,000 year cycle.
Currently the location is moving northward about 25 feet a year.
To an observer, when the sun appears to set it is well below the horizon.
Allowing for atmospheric refraction, many would be able to say they see the sun for a full 24 hours at a point a degree below the Arctic Circle.
If twilight is taken into account, where there is not true darkness, then this phenomenom may be said to be seen a further 12 degrees south, areas that encompass more southerly sweeps of Canada, Northern Europe, (including Scotland, Norway, Finland, all but the southern tip of Sweden,) Northern Asia, and Alaska.
You choose the Arctic defining area.
Recent changes observed in Arctic Areas.
Given any definition, the Arctic has changed considerably in the last few decades.
Scientists are debating whether the ice caps, ice shelves and glaciers of the Arctic are receding as a result of global warming, or if this is phenomena results from a continuation of a micro weather cycle started 150 years ago, part of a much larger Earth cycle.
Whatever the cause, the change taking place in the Arctic for the world as a whole will be significant.
Climate change is almost certainly a factor in the decrease in extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice.
With permafrost thawing, with amplified coastal erosion, with great changes in ice sheets and ice shelves and the altered distribution and abundance of all species in polar regions, there is also correlative to this the steady global rise of trace gas CO2 and other greenhouse gasses.
Sea ice in the Beaufort Sea, with the 1002 Area of the US Arctic Refuge coastal plain, and the Brooks Range mountains, in the background to the south.

Photo: Alaska Image Library
Sea ice in the Beaufort Sea, with the 1002 Area of the US Arctic Refuge coastal plain, and the Brooks Range mountains, in the background to the south.
Alaska Image Library
A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover.
Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.
Dr Serreze: "This will be four Septembers in a row that we've seen a downward trend.  The feeling is we are reaching a tipping point or threshold beyond which sea ice will not recover."
Professor Wadhams: "As the sea ice melts, and more of the sun's energy is absorbed by the exposed ocean, a positive feedback is created leading to the loss of yet more ice."
"If anything we may be underestimating the dangers.  The computer models may not take into account collaborative positive feedback."
"Sea ice keeps a cap on frigid water, keeping it cold and protecting it from heating up."
"Losing the sea ice of the Arctic is likely to have major repercussions for the climate."
"There could be dramatic changes to the climate of the northern region due to the creation of a vast expanse of open water where there was once effectively land."
"You're essentially changing land into ocean and the creation of a huge area of open ocean where there was once land will have a very big impact on other climate parameters."
        Global warming has reached point of no return?       
         — Arctic warming at twice global rate         
        Permafrost melting        
        —  Siberia, Alaskan wildlife refuge        
        Village of Shishmaref, Alaska and climate change        
       Greenhouse Gas Emissions Worldwide.         
Monday, 25 December 2006
Cold War haunts Arctic outpost
By Ben Tobias
Nowhere was the Cold War chillier than in Barentsburg, a Russian coal-mining community deep inside the Arctic Circle.
Barentsburg remains a bleak outpost - and needs new income.

Barentsurg a Russian town within the artic circle is a town on the island of Spitsbergen, in Norway's Svalbard archipelago.
Barentsburg remains a bleak outpost - and needs new income
The settlement is on the island of Spitsbergen, in Norway's Svalbard archipelago.
Walking through the endless passageways of Barentsburg's coal mine, it is easy to imagine that not much has changed here since the Soviet Union collapsed 15 years ago.
I am dressed in ragged old overalls and kitted out with a safety ventilator and head torch that were probably first used some time during the Brezhnev era.
But above ground things are very different.
These days, the Russian and Norwegian populations on the island live in relative harmony.   The residents of the two settlements are free to visit each other's homes and they can talk openly about their very separate lives.
That was not always the case. Spitsbergen was the northern front of the Cold War, and relations between the Russians and Norwegians on the island were chilly. Official "exchanges" took place every few months, but never without surveillance.
"We could only go to [the Norwegian town of] Longyearbyen if we were accompanied by a KGB agent," says Boris Ocherednyuk, who has lived in Barentsburg for 24 years.
"In Longyearbyen, we were forbidden from going into the church. We weren't allowed to look at a bible. We certainly weren't allowed to look at the fashion magazines they had, with beautiful clothes and people in them. If they found out we'd got one of those, we were severely punished," he says.
Svalbard Treaty
Svalbard map
The Soviets were able to settle on the island because of the unique Svalbard Treaty.
The treaty, written in 1920, gave sovereignty of the Svalbard archipelago to Norway, but all the treaty's signatories were given an equal right to commercial activities on the island.
Russia and Norway are the only nations with significant settlements on Spitsbergen, but people of many nationalities now live and work on the island, including Poles, Thais and Iranians.
Spitsbergen is cold, dark and isolated.   During the winter the temperature can drop to minus 40C and from November until February it is dark all the time.
But for many miners in the Soviet Union, a trip to Barentsburg was a great opportunity.   Wages were relatively high and were paid on time.
"When I first came here, I was able to save money for my children and for my future.   I was able to finance my daughter's wedding and help my son while he was in the army.   Unfortunately with all the changes that happened to my country, the money I saved got devalued and because of that I'm still here today," says Boris Ocherednyuk.
Longyearbyen is a shiny example of Norwegian prosperity.

Barentsurg a Norwegian community within the artic circle is a town on the island of Spitsbergen, in Norway's Svalbard archipelago.
Longyearbyen is a shiny example of Norwegian prosperity
Tourism hopes
These days the mine is running at a loss.   The coal reserves are shrinking, and so is the population.   In 1991 there were more than 2,000 Russians on Spitsbergen - twice the size of the Norwegian population.
Now just over 400 Russians are left on the island, compared to about 1,500 Norwegians.
However, there are plans to find new ways of bringing money and people back to Barentsburg.   Boris Nagayuk is director of the mine:
"We plan to create our own tourism firm here, like the Norwegians have done.   So far tourists have come here only with Norwegian tour firms, but we want to run our own company," says Mr Nagayuk.
Norway's main settlement on Spitsbergen, Longyearbyen, has developed rapidly over the last 10 years, largely thanks to the growing number of tourists.   All sorts of activities are on offer, from snowmobile safaris to Arctic barbecues.
The extra money has turned Longyearbyen into a thriving, modern town, which in many ways feels like an Alpine ski resort.   For Boris Ocherednyuk, the contrast with the stark environment of Barentsburg is impossible to ignore.
"I've been to Longyearbyen a number of times.   Of course in some ways we are jealous of them.   Life there has moved forward a long way, to a point we can only aspire to.   But at least now I feel free."
Other measures of import being seen:
  • a recorded 15 per cent increase in Arctic precipitation
  • earlier springs and a later onset of freezing conditions
  • a decrease in marine salinity.
The freezing point of ocean water is -1.9°C when salinity is 33 parts per thousand, the freezing point changing with the concentration of salt.
As ice crystals grow in the water during the autumn season, small ice platelets begin to accumulate.   These platelets inter-link, and form a porous structure of ice crystals filled with liquid, which is referred to as brine.
Sea ice serves as habitat for an ice-brine specific food web:  bacteria, viruses, unicellular algae, and invertebrates sufficiently small to traverse the brine.   Flourishing life within the briny habitat is intricately linked to temperature.
As the temperature drops, these species accumulate deposits of organic molecules, and fatlike material as a strategy to survive.   This is one base of the arctic food chain.
The thermohaline circulation is also thought to be at risk.   A decrease in salinity and an increase in temperature will affect the cold halocline (vertical gradient in ocean salinity) ocean water.
Arctic drainage, including brine from sea-ice formation, mixes with warmer saline water rising from the tropics.   The colder water descends to flow along a deep channel east of the coasts of North and South America.
A rapid change in the cooler arctic water temperature may well short circuit the thermo-haline circulation.
By this circulation, arctic sea water, reaching great depths as it sinks, eventually spreads through the upwelling and downwelling to the Antarctic, Indian and Pacific oceans.
        Arctic Sea Ice Extent        
       Northern Hemisphere Sea Ice Area 2000-2003        
       More on abrupt climate change        
     Greenland and abrupt climate event   
The thermo-haline circulation is a major factor in understanding the long-term evolution of the coupled atmosphere-ocean system.
The retreat of sea ice, already having an impact, is likely to continue in the Arctic.
With this retreat, additional warming results.
Incoming solar energy magnifies, due to the loss of highly reflective snow and ice cover.
With no corrective factor, (such as increased Tundra growth absorbing CO
2), the likely outcome is that the Arctic will even more quickly lose its remaining ice cover.
If this should occur the Arctic will no longer reflect sunflight, preventing Earth from absorbing the heat, and in this regard will cease to be a factor in regulating Earth’s overall temperature.

Arctic climate change
Signs of warming continue in the Arctic with a decline in sea ice, an increase in shrubs growing on the tundra and rising concerns about the Greenland ice sheet.
"There have been regional warming periods before. Now we're seeing Arctic-wide changes," James Overland, an oceanographer at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, said Thursday.
For the past five years, it was at least 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above average over the Arctic over the entire year, he said.
The new "State of the Arctic" analysis, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also reports an increase in northward movement of warmer water through the Bering Strait in 2001-2004. This may have contributed to a continuing reduction of sea ice.
During that time, there were record lows in sea ice coverage in the region, Overland said. This year there was more normal coverage in the Bering area but a record low on the Atlantic side of the Arctic.
In the past when such a shift occurred, there would have been no net loss of ice overall, just a change in where there was a smaller amount. Now, however, there is both the shift and an overall net loss of ice, he said.
Indeed, the report said Arctic sea ice coverage this past March was the lowest in winter since measurements by satellite began in the early 1970s.
Jacqueline A. Richter-Menge of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., said the sea ice decline is now being observed in both winter and summer.
The study was designed to assess the overall impact of climate change in the Arctic and will be updated annually. It was compiled by researchers from the United States, Canada France, Germany, Poland, Norway, Sweden and Russia, she said
There have been many changes over the Arctic land areas, too, said Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor at the geophysical institute of the University of Alaska. These include changes in vegetation, river discharge into the Arctic Ocean, glaciers and permafrost.
The tundra is becoming greener with the growth of more shrubs, he said. This development is causing problems in some areas as herds of reindeer migrate.
At the same time, there is some decrease in the greening of the northern forest areas, probably due to drought. The glaciers are continuing to shrink and river discharge into the Arctic Ocean is rising, Romanovsky said.
There has been a significant warming of the permafrost over the past 30 years, he added.
Much of the damage to the permafrost soil can be blamed on human construction activities and fires, he said. In many areas, this frozen ground is close to the melting point and soon could begin to thaw.
Overland said the changes are affecting wildlife in the Arctic. Those in the middle levels of the ocean, such as pollock, seem to do well; those on the surface ice or the sea floor, such as walrus or crabs, are not coping as well.
"We're seeing a lot of indicators of climate change in the Arctic and that may be an indicator for change in other parts of the world," Overland said.
Most of the heating from the sun comes to the equator and subequatorial regions, and a lot of heat leaves by radiation from Arctic, he said.
"The temperature difference between the Arctic and equator drives all of our weather," Overland said. If the Arctic warms up and that difference is reduced, weather could change, though people remain unsure about the effect.
AP December 2006
Permafrost thawing can itself add to climate change.   Permafrost today underlies 23 million square kilometers of the Northern Hemisphere — 24% of the exposed land surface.   Because permafrost has such widespread distribution it becomes a serious environmental factor when undergoing change.
Permafrost is rock or soil that remains below 0°C  for an extended period of time (depending upon the country, classification for more than one or two years).
It may contain ice and have snow above, or it may not.   Most of the permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere is within 60°N  and 68°N,  land surface giving way to the Arctic Ocean above this latitude.
The Tibetan Plateau, mountain areas of SE Asia, the U.S. Rocky Mountains, and European mountains also have areas of permafrost.
Moss, alive yet dormant, has been found in the Kolyma Lowlands of Beringia in northeastern Siberia, frozen in permafrost ice wedges that have very ancient ice at the center.
Dormant ancient microbes, and even higher plants such as moss, can remain viable by cryopreservation, resuming metabolic activity upon thawing, after being frozen in glacial ice or permafrost for thousands to millions of years.
There are several types of classification of permafrost:
Cold permafrost remains below -1°C.   This type of permafrost may remain as low as -12°C and will tolerate an introduction of considerable heat without thawing.
Thaw-stable permafrost is in bedrock, in well drained, coarse-grained sediments such as glacial outwash gravel, and in many sand and gravel mixtures.   Subsidence is minor if thawing occurs.
It remains essentially sound as a foundation.
Thaw-unstable permafrost is in poorly drained, fine grained soils, especially silts and clays.   This soil generally contain large amounts of ice.
If thawing takes place the permafrost foundation is likely to begin to flow.
Warm permafrost remains just below O°C.   The addition of very little heat induces thawing.
Permafrost in the Swiss Alps has been warming at a rate of 0.5 to 1°C every 100 years, but in the 1980s the warming was almost equivalent to this in just ten years.
Permafrost on Svalbard and in the alpine regions in mainland Norway is thawing.
Deep underground temperature analyses from a borehole in Juvvasshøe indicate a temperature increase of 0.5–1.0°C over the last 20–40 years.  
Thursday, 11 August 2005
Siberia's rapid thaw causes alarm
Tundra in Siberia, AP
The whole western Siberian sub-Arctic region has started to thaw
The world's largest frozen peat bog is melting, which could speed the rate of global warming, New Scientist reports.
The huge expanse of western Siberia is thawing for the first time since its formation, 11,000 years ago.
The area, which is the size of France and Germany combined, could release billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
This could potentially act as a tipping point, causing global warming to snowball, scientists fear.
The situation is an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming," researcher Sergei Kirpotin, of Tomsk State University, Russia, told New Scientist magazine.
The whole western Siberian sub-Arctic region has started to thaw, he added, and this "has all happened in the last three or four years".
Warming fast
Western Siberia has warmed faster than almost anywhere on the planet, with average temperatures increasing by about 3C in the last 40 years.
The warming is believed to be due to a combination of man-made climate change, a cyclical atmospheric phenomenon known as the Arctic oscillation and feedbacks caused by melting ice.
When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable
David Viner, climate scientist
The 11,000-year-old bogs contain billions of tonnes of methane, most of which has been trapped in permafrost and deeper ice-like structures called clathrates.
But if the bogs melt, there is a big risk their hefty methane load could be dumped into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.
Scientists have reacted with alarm at the finding, warning that future global temperature predictions may have to be revised.
"When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable," David Viner, of the University of East Anglia, UK, told the Guardian newspaper.   "There are no brakes you can apply.
"This is a big deal because you can't put the permafrost back once it's gone.   The causal effect is human activity and it will ramp up temperatures even more than our emissions are doing."
The intergovernmental panel on climate change speculated in 2001 that global temperatures would rise between 1.4C and 5.8C between 1990 and 2100.
However these estimates only considered global warming sparked by known greenhouse gas emissions.
"These positive feedbacks with landmasses weren't known about then," Dr Viner said.   "They had no idea how much they would add to global warming.

Three polar bears on the Beaufort Sea coast within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo: Alaska Image Library
Three polar bears on the Beaufort Sea coast within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Photo: Alaska Image Library
Tundramispelled Tudra
The word tundra derives from the Finnish word for barren or treeless land.   It’s vegetation includes tussock-forming graminoids, mats or cushion plants, evergreen members of the heath family, rosettes and dwarf shrubs.
The growing season is 6 to 10 weeks only.   Arctic hare, arctic fox, musk ox are species that reside year round.   Waterfowl, shorebirds and caribou are species that migrate onto the tundra during summer months.   Ptarmigan is one of the species of birds that fly overhead.
-104 Fahrenheit
There are three types of tundra:
High Arctic tundra is specific to Arctic Ocean islands.   Lichens and mosses grow here among rock surfaces, in protected crannies, and among ice-fractured rock debris.   There are also some broader-leaved herbs, perennial forbs that eke out an existence.
Middle Arctic tundra is a freeze and thaw area found in the Arctic coastal plains.   Sphagnum moss and sedges and forbs grow here in the drier regions, and some dwarf heaths.
Low Arctic tundra is the majority of the tundra we recognise as tundra.   Vegetation here is in the better drained slopes where there is a greater depth before permafrost.   Woody shrubs: willow, birch, and berry-bearing plants of heath grow in these regions.
By streams, willows and alders may be 10 feet high.   On slopes that are protected, spruce and fir may become established.   These act as the outcroppings of great boreal forests that have grown up to the tundra line.
Tundra is being studied with increasing frequency today because warming may well change the permafrost regions from a global carbon sink to a source of escaping carbon, acting as a positive feedback loop to global climate warming.
Organic material in thawing permafrost decays rapidly, releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide and methane.   Also large amounts of organic carbon, the precursor for carbon dioxide and methane emissions, are sequestered within permafrost.
An increase in emissions of methane from tundra, without preventitive measures such as a massive vegetation growth, will add to gases already being released into the atmosphere by human activity.   Greenhouse gas emissions from permafrost, once begun, may continue for decades unless checked by CO2 sinks.
Vankor oil field
Eastern Siberia
The balance may require great effort and expense to become stabilized.   Greenhouse gas concentrations, once stabilized by humankind in other areas, may cause irreversible impacts on ice sheets, global ocean circulation and sea-level rise.
Beyond the tundra, much of the Northern Hemisphere permafrost is overlain by evergreen boreal forest.   The Arctic, contains a third of the Earth’s stored soil carbon, having had forests over much of its region at one time or another.   These boreal forests act as both a source and a sink of carbon.
These past few decades an increase in the cutting of the present forests has taken place, many areas becoming clear-cut deforested.   If the high northern latitudes undergo a significant temperature increase, these areas and tundra soils may add to the release of their stored carbon into the atmosphere.
Many elements of Arctic weather control are not yet understood by scientists.   As the thinning of polar ice continues, the coming decade will show more clearly how the Arctic thaw will have consequences for changes to the climate.
An increase in temperature is leading to increased plant growth, resulting in carbon retention and possibly a temperature drop or stabilization.   If enough vegetation growth does not take place, it may be that higher temperatures w ycle of carbon release and temperature rise.
Tundra wildflowers


Photo: Alaska Image Library
Tundra wildflowers
Photo: Alaska Image Library
                          To rebel is right, to disobey is a duty, to act is necessary !
         Alaska Meltdown           
Saturday 23rd April 2005
Forecast Earth: Alaska Meltdown
How is global warming affecting the Alaskan climate?
Global warming in Alaska?
By Dr. Heidi Cullen, Climate Expert at:  The Weather Channel — Wed, Sept. 1, 2004
Editor’s Note: In May 2004, Dr. Heidi Cullen, climate expert at The Weather Channel, took off for Alaska to investigate the issue of global warming first hand.  The following report is a portion of what she discovered.
It’s tempting to ask: "What does Alaska have to do with global warming?"
The answer is simple.
When you live in a place where there is a lot of snow and ice, even a change of 1° Fahrenheit is big.
It can mean the difference between frozen and not frozen.
In fact, the impacts of climate change are more obvious in Alaska than anywhere else in the United States.
Many think of the state as a ’canary in a coalmine’.
Santa Claus' office
Globally, Earth’s average surface temperature has increased about 1 to 1.5° Fahrenheit over the last century.
The majority of scientists believe that this temperature increase is associated with burning fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels like oil and gas release carbon dioxide (CO2) when combusted — adding to the greenhouse effect.
Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, occur naturally.
In fact, without the greenhouse effect, Earth’s average surface temperature would be near 0°F.
The greenhouse gases that make up our atmosphere help keep Earth’s thermostat set at a comfortable and life-sustaining 59°F.
But carbon dioxide is increasing; scientists have measured a 31 percent increase in CO2 since 1750.
When carbon dioxide increases, temperatures go up with it.
A significant portion of the observed CO2 is because of human activities, like burning coal to produce electricity.
In 1860, atmospheric CO2 was 280 parts per million, 2004 levels have reached 379 parts per million.
So while carbon dioxide is a good thing, at the moment we have too much of a good thing — and it’s pushing our planet into warmer territory.
Preparing for the winter holiday
Scientists have long predicted that global warming will become visible in the form of different climate impacts.
We wanted to see these impacts for ourselves — that’s why we went to Alaska.  We wanted to hear about global warming from people who live there and have seen it for themselves.
The weather has become ’uggianaqtuq’
The weather has become ’uggianaqtuq’:  For centuries, native people in the Arctic have built their lives around the snow and ice.
A central part of their traditional culture is hunting and fishing.  This requires an intimate knowledge of weather and climate.
Uggianaqtuq (OOG-gi-a-nak-took) is a North Baffin Inuktitut word that means to behave unexpectedly, or in an unfamiliar way.
From the perspective of many hunters and elders in the Arctic, the weather has become uggianaqtuq — a stranger — in recent years.
For the Inupiat Eskimo of Barrow, the sea ice skirting the Arctic Ocean has been a vital friend for hundreds of years.
But it, too, is becoming a stranger — an increasingly thin stranger.
North Poll surrounded by city lights
Indeed, scientists have measured a 30 percent decrease in Arctic sea ice over the past 30 years, making it a lot more dangerous to hunt whales.
The melting of sea ice affects much more than whaling.
Some scientists predict it will lead to a seasonal opening of the Northwest Passage, offering a potential trade route with Asia.
Ideally, ships need about 60 days of ice-free conditions for trade and scientists say this might happen within 10 years.
Animal populations in the Last Frontier are also at risk.
As the ice disappears, so does the home of the polar bear.
Some estimate the polar bear may be extinct in a few decades as the ice it lives on eventually disappears.
In fact, wildlife all across Alaska is changing.
Just by observing caribou migration patterns and bear behavior, it’s easy to see that Alaska is beginning to look very different from the way many people remember.
Liquid natural gas export terminal
Hammerfest, Norway
Eighty-five percent is permafrost
The fundamental science of global warming is solid, but in Fairbanks, the ground that some Alaskans stand on is not.
The ground in Alaska isn’t like the ground in the lower 48.
Eighty-five percent is permafrost — soil hardened with ice. Land transportation in Alaska is often over permafrost, which is defined as soil, rock, or sediment that has remained below 32°F for two or more years.
Increasing temperatures are making it tough to travel these routes and its expected this will only get worse as temperatures continue to rise.
The number of days each year that oil and gas exploration and extraction equipment is approved for use by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources across remote regions the tundra has gone down from over 200 to about 100 in the past 30 years.
These changes are also affecting the 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
The pipeline was originally built in 1977 for $8 billion to transport oil from the North Slope of Alaska to Port Valdez. Because roughly 75 percent of the territory covered by the pipeline is permafrost, 420 miles run above ground on vertical supports to avoid thawing the ground.
Scientists have cautioned that warming temperatures could likely compromise the integrity of the pipeline.
Because the vertical supports are drilled to depths of 15 to 70 feet — there is a concern that roughly one-third of the supports may be moving as a result of warming temperatures and thawing permafrost.
Replacing a vertical support is estimated to cost upwards of $85,000 apiece.
And it gets worse.
As the permafrost thaws, massive amounts of CO2 and methane will be released into the atmosphere.
Both are primary greenhouse gases, and are expected to further aggravate the global warming trend.
Over the next 100 years, climate change is projected to continue.
Climate models indicate permafrost degradation in the Arctic may occur over 10-20 percent of the present permafrost area, and the southern limit of this frozen soil is projected to shift northward by hundreds of miles.
Erosion evicts entire town:  Waves are another weapon in the arsenal of climate impacts that are changing Alaska.
For example, the town of Shishmaref, home to a little less than 600, sits on a barrier island at the westernmost part of Alaska.
This barrier island is being swallowed by the sea at the rate of up to 125 feet a year.
And it’s taking Shishmaref with it.
In Alaska, coastal erosion is a major problem because most of the shoreline consists of permafrost covered by tundra.
Normally, permafrost melts only at the surface during the summer and then refreezes in the winter.
But now, due to global warming, the summer melt goes deeper into the permafrost and ends up lasting well into the fall.
In addition, sea ice forms later in the season.
Sea ice serves as a protective lid
Sea ice serves as a protective lid for ocean waves by helping to keep big waves in check.
But now, when storms barrel through in September and October they remain over open water.
These waves break onto the coast where thawed permafrost is vulnerable.
Warmer temperatures degrade frozen soils and sea ice, providing a perfect example of how something can feed off itself and gain strength.
Less sea ice means stronger storms which further degrade and eat away the permafrost coastline.
The shoreline doesn’t stand a chance against higher sea level and big waves, not to mention the communities built on a crumbling permafrost foundation.
Shishmaref is just one example but it’s not the only one.
Residents of Shishmaref, and the nearby town of Kivalina, are trying to gather the funding to dismantle these communities and move them to more solid ground.
But this comes with a steep price tag.
The cost of moving Shishmaref has been estimated at $100 million — more than $100,000 per resident.
Right now, residents are spending all of their energy on preserving their traditions and moving their people to safer ground.
In only 15 years, the Spruce Bark Beetle killed more trees in Alaska than any other North American insect.
Warming increases extreme events:  This summer set new temperature records in Alaska.
June 2004 was the warmest June in recorded history, coming in more than 5° Fahrenheit above the 1971- 2000 average.
While it may be tempting to just blame this on global warming, it would be incorrect.
Extreme weather happens with or without global warming.
What global warming does is increase the odds of seeing extreme events like the record heat in Alaska this summer.
You might think warmer temperatures would be beneficial for the large tracts of forests that cover much of southern Alaska.
But, in fact, Alaska’s forests are hurting.
Nutrient-rich waters off Greenland
Vital first link of food chain
by global warming
A long run of warmer temperatures has paved the way for a small beetle to devastate these beautiful forests.
The spruce bark beetle, which lives in and feeds on trees that drape the Kenai Peninsula, has killed more trees in Alaska over the past 15 years than any other insect in North American history.
The beetles need 60° Fahrenheit temperatures to successfully fly from one tree to the next.
That’s why the cool, damp weather that used to blanket the Kenai Peninsula won’t let a bark beetle infestation to last very long.
And if that doesn’t work, a hard, cold spring will kill off an infestation.
Young trees protected themselves by producing enough sap to drive out this parasite.
But that’s all changed.
The trees are no match for the spruce bark beetle and the resulting number of casualties has been high:  roughly 4 million acres of spruce trees in southern Alaska are gone.
Throughout the 1990s, as Alaska warmed and the hard springs didn’t appear, the bark beetles were unstoppable.
They managed to thrive on a string of abnormally warm winters in southern Alaska since 1987.
The only reason the bark beetles are contained now is that they’ve literally eaten themselves out of house and home; there simply aren’t any trees left.
And there are signs that Alaska’s warming climate is allowing more pests to thrive, which may mean more infestations for Alaska’s virgin wilderness.
“A brilliant red sunset reflecting off the frozen tundra”    Photo by Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren,   NOAA
In the past few decades the Arctic environment has become increasingly more contaminated.
Acting as a sink for heavy metals, for persistent organic pollutants (POPs), for radioactivity, there are many new foreign substances being detected in this once pristine environment.
Radioactive isotopes are widely found in sediment samples—a result of fallout from atmospheric weapons testing, from military accidents, and from discharges from European reprocessing plants
Wastewater containing radioactive isotopes has been carried north from plants at Sellafield and Dounreay in the United Kingdom, and Le Cap de la Hague near Cherbourg in France.
Concentrations of technetium 99, found in brown algae collected in the outer Oslofjord, has increased by a factor of five.
This as a result of discharges from the Sellafield reprocessing plant in the United Kingdom.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are a group of chemicals that can travel long distances and resist degradation in the environment.
Substances such as dichlorodiphenyl trichlorethane (DDT), Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and the pesticide lindane are now found in the Arctic.
Rosneft's Vankor oil field
Eastern Siberia, Russia
Vast reserves of oil
Set in frozen tundra
Recoverable reserves
of 2.5 billion barrels
DDT is affecting reproduction of the Arctic Peregrine Falcon.
DDE is causing eggshell thinning in some birds.
Trybutylin (TBT) is found in snails from the Norwegian, Icelandic and Alaskan coasts.
Trybutylin is resulting in a disease that leads to sterilization.
This disease has been documented in snails inside the harbors of northern Norway, Svalbard, Iceland and Alaska.
The linkage of PCBs and dioxin-like compounds to adverse reproduction in polar bears and some marine mammals is not clear, but several Arctic species contain concentrations of POPs close to known thresholds associated with neurotoxic and immunosuppressive effects.
Mercury has become a significant issue over the past two decades.
The increase of mercury in the livers and kidneys of the beluga whale is thought to be due to an increase in the global discharge of mercury into the oceans.
The Arctic acts as a sink for mercury due to the cold climate.
Marine mammals from northwestern Canada show the highest levels of mercury.
These levels have risen faster in the past two decades than ever before.
It is expected that chemicals and heavy metals will continue to accumulate in the Arctic environment.
          Norway extends Arctic zone
Arctic People
“A baseball game.”    Celebrating the 4th of July 1938 at St. Paul, Pribilof Islands, Bering Sea
Photo:  National Marine Fisheries Service
Part of the crowd celebrating the 4th of July 1938 at St. Paul, Pribilof Islands.   A number of representatives of the local baseball team are dressed for a game.
Young Saami Arctic people
The well-being of Arctic peoples who traditionally support themselves from the sea is being threatened.
The Inuit have lived and traveled throughout the Arctic for more than 5,000 years.
Persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals are creating a bioaccumulation in the food chain, a buildup that is affecting the 3.5 million people in the Arctic today.
Increased activity in forestry, mineral resource extraction, and the influx of tourism, is seeing the life of many of the Arctic communities changing.
Inuit and Saami are finding their traditional lifestyle overwhelmed by the larger American, Canadian and Russian/European cultures.
With this new style of living, the environment is being vitiated.
Human waste pollution, garbage containment and elimination, and a variety of factors that nature itself once was able to contain, have in many growing areas not been addressed.
Recognizing the need for action to control the damage to the environment, The Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the international organization representing 145,000 Inuit living in the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka, Russia, and the Saami Council have joined in an attempt to connect indigenous peoples that live within the various governmental borders.
A major purpose of the joint venture is to establish a sustainable and healthy ecosystem maintenance.
The formation of the new territory/province of Nunavut in Canada has recently allowed the Canadian Inuit to have control of their education, health, social and other services, and a voice in the type of activities that take place within their land.
The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Far East and Siberia is a grouping that links 30 indigenous minority groups, presenting them as a united voice.
As development continues in the Arctic, the eight countries of the Arctic States, the governments of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States of America, have established an Arctic Council that includes: The Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Saami Council, and the Association of Indigenous Minorities in the Far north, Siberia, and the Far East of the Russian Federation.
These are Permanent Participants in the Arctic Council.
The Arctic Council has made a pledge through the program for the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, CAFF, to protect a minimum of 12% of each Arctic eco zone.
It is unclear how effective the protected status of the areas will be however.
Arctic Village in Winter.

Photo: William Troyer/Alaska Image Library
Arctic Village in Winter.
William Troyer/Alaska Image Library
Thursday, 4 January 2007
Alaska natives left out in the cold
Patricia Cochran
Patricia Cochran
While the rest of the world argues about the best way to curb future climate change, says Patricia Cochran in this week's Green Room, native communities within the Arctic Circle are having to draw on their own ancestral strengths to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
 A day after Christmas, the Anchorage Daily News ran an article about flooding and erosion in small native villages on the west coast of Alaska with names familiar to no one else except Alaskans.
House about to fall into the sea (Image: ANSC)

Several Alaska coastal villages are now actively trying to figure out where to move entire communities
Several coastal villages are now actively trying to figure out where to move entire communities
(Image: Alaska Native Science Commission)
But this is a very familiar story to us. With thinner sea ice arriving later and leaving earlier in the year, coastal communities are experiencing more intensified storms with larger waves than they have ever experienced.
This threat is being compounded by the loss of permafrost which has kept river banks from eroding too quickly.
The waves are larger because there is no sea ice to diminish their intensity, slamming against the west and northern shores of Alaska, causing severe storm driven coastal erosion.
It has become so serious that several coastal villages are now actively trying to figure out where to move entire communities.
While the world's politicians and media focus their attention on the big picture of agreeing the best way to curb global climate change, we are left to pick up the pieces from wasted years of inaction.
The cost to move one small village of 300 people ranges from $130m (£66m) to a high of $200m (£102m), even if the distance is a few miles, because moving means reconstructing entire water, electrical, road, airport and/or barge landing infrastructure, as well as schools and clinics.
Permafrost is melting all over Alaska as a result of rising temperatures, causing land underneath many villages to subside
From their actions, it is clear that neither the federal nor state governments are prepared for the immense cost and complexity of moving even one tiny community.
There is no lead government agency to assist communities affected by climate change events, and that is evident here in Alaska as small villages are left to take the initiative to mobilise support from a myriad government agencies to piece together some kind of incremental financial assistance.
Unlike the communities affected by Hurricane Katrina and large single storm events in major metropolitan areas of the continental US, northern coastal communities experience an insidious and gradual loss of land underneath their homes and businesses, for which there is only piecemeal assistance.
The sad fact is, according to the Army Corp of Engineers, that more than 80% of Alaskan communities (comprised mostly of indigenous peoples) are vulnerable to either coastal or river erosion.
Climate chain reaction
Natives have traditionally located their communities near water bodies for access to wild foods; so here is an example of the age-old Alaska native wisdom that "everything is connected":
Sun shining on ice in the Arctic

Thinning ice is having an impact on natives' traditional way of life.

(Image: AP)
Thinning ice is having an impact on natives' traditional way of life
Permafrost is melting all over Alaska as a result of rising temperatures, causing land underneath many villages to subside and softening the soil on riverbanks like the mighty Yukon River.
Mountain snow and ice melt rapidly, causing a short period when water levels in the rivers rise and move rapidly.   The high, fast flowing water serves to wash away an unprecedented amount of riverbanks in villages.
The vast amount of soil taken into the river causes riverbeds to rise as eroded soil accumulates on the bottom.
River depths decrease to the point where many areas are so shallow that more and more salmon that are caught in subsistence fishing have lesions, cuts, and scrapes as they struggle to get through very shallow parts of the river.
The low levels that remain for the rest of the summer mean the water is warmer than in the past, causing further stress to the fish during the breeding season.
It may come to the stage that salmon numbers will dramatically decrease within the foreseeable future.   This in turn will affect the food available for bears, land otters, eagles and people.
Less salmon carcasses taken inland and left near the rivers will decrease the fertility of land, water, and vegetation.   Most "mainlanders" do not understand that we are talking about millions and millions of salmon taken by wildlife every year in Alaska, so the loss of salmon will have significant ecological impacts to land, water, wildlife and vegetation.
Polar bear (Image: SPL)

What happens in Alaska will affect all other places of the world as a cascading effect
What happens in Alaska will affect all other places of the world as a cascading effect
(Image: SPL)
Behaviour change
Significantly, diminished salmon numbers will lead to predators uncharacteristically concentrating on other prey, perhaps creating an imbalance and threatening the viability of the prey.
One can only imagine what decreased and changing vegetation will do to the land-based food chains.
All of this will have a profound impact on the viability of indigenous cultures throughout the North, and further afield.   Everything is connected in nature; what happens in Alaska will affect all other places of the world as a cascading effect, as scientists call it, will occur.
Alaska Native Elders say we must prepare to adapt.   This is a simple instruction but it is not so easy to understand what it really means.
Adapting means more than adjusting hunting technologies and what kind of food we eat.   It means re-learning how to garner information from a rapidly changing environment.   Even science is recognising the value of ancestral knowledge passed on to later generations of natives.
There is a reason native people have been able to survive for centuries in the harshest of conditions, in the strangest of times; it is because of our resilience and our adaptability.
And it is that strength from within that our communities now have to rely upon as we face an uncertain future.
Patricia Cochran is executive director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, and chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council
The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Arctic Valued Life
“A siksikpuk, an Arctic ground squirrel.
Photo:  Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren,   NOAA
Arctic lands, which are increasingly under threat from industry, mining, and oil extraction, need protected status from all nations.
A top priority for the world is that all of the arctic is placed as a protected area, subject to the most stringent environmental standards and restoration procedures.
Hundreds of species are endemic to the Arctic; many of these species showing a genetic uniqueness.
Polar life has adapted to extreme conditions and these adaptations have made the various species of plant and animal extremely sensitive to all human influence.
The ecosystem in the Arctic having a narrow period of growth — snow cover and availability of daylight determining the short emergent season — even minor changes have profound consequences.
With migratory bird species as an example — using the region as breeding and hatching ground — some of these species, extremely vulnerable to the effects of environmental contamination, are showing signs of being unable to breed.
Many of the migratory birds have terrestrial corridors of migration and are found concentrated in areas of marginal ice edges, areas now being used by human tourist activity.
If these species are to be preserved and maintained for future generations, these corridor areas need protective status.
Tourism has become a recent development.
Over one million Arctic tourists a year visit such places as Svalbard.
Physical disturbance from tourism has taken hold in all Arctic countries.
Hibini Mountains
Arctic Russia
Garbage elimination has become a major problem.
In the Canadian Arctic, the number of visitors to remote Arctic ecosystems has increased rapidly in the past few years with little understanding of environmental damage thresholds.
Cruise ships are bringing people into areas previously unspoilt by humans, this being the attraction of such areas.
Ecotourism is essential.
With good planning, tourism can be conducted.
But care and regulations must be agreed upon, to ensure there is no additional environmental damage.
Funding must be allocated by governmental bodies, if the Arctic is going to be restored, maintained and preserved.
Tourism, natural resource extraction, over harvesting of biological resources, introduction of alien species, all have brought changes, and threaten the established Arctic biodiversity.
Tree Sparrow Nest.

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Alaska Image Library
Tree Sparrow Nest
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Alaska Image Library
                          To rebel is right, to disobey is a duty, to act is necessary !
         Alaska Meltdown — Wildlife Our Wilderness           
Tuesday 15th March 2005
Alaskan wildlife refuge must be saved
Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is again on the table in Congress, this time in the budget bill.
Human beings need wilderness and open space.
Some years ago, a friend teaching at a rural Michigan campus invited high schoolers from Detroit to study ecology.
At first, the students were frightened and hesitant but the woods slowly drew them out.
They found things, camped out, stalked deer, sat and gazed and grew.
Nature changed them as much as any classroom, and without speaking a word to them.
How many times must Americans say it?
Leave our wilderness alone!
The natural world sustains us all and not just with food and shelter.
We prove this when we "move out" to the suburbs, take vacations to national parks, and envision bubbling brooks when we are stressed out.
Our American "can do" independence results in large part from living in a country with rich open space. We reflect our land.
Places like the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge embody the heart of our land.
They are places from which we draw strength as a people and renew our national soul as well as our individual spirits.
We may never set foot on the great coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, but we are nonetheless enriched by its presence.
Oil companies contend that new techniques will not harm the habitat and wildlife of this fragile area. This is simply not true.
Estimates suggest the need for 50-60 gravel drill sites and waste pits; three production facilities; three sea water treatment plants; three airports; 280 miles of roads, 10-15 gravel excavation sites; 150 miles of pipelines; and two solid waste disposal dumps.
The list goes on, to say nothing of the inevitable toxic spills of oil and waste (Prudehoe Bay averages a spill a day).
Proponents of drilling argue that we need this oil for national security. Really?
The U.S. Geological Survey concluded that, if there is substantial oil in the Refuge (there’s only a 50-50 chance there is enough to justify extraction costs), the amount will feed our "oil appetite" for only six to nine months.
Oil executives have testified it will be seven to 10 years before the oil can be processed and made available. Will our national security needs wait?
And what are our national security needs? America uses about 25 percent of the world’s available oil but has only 3 percent of the known reserves.
Some people, such as U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., suggest that obtaining oil from the refuge will decrease our dependence on foreign oil.
Recently, he said, "Our dependence on oil from the Middle East represents a grave national security threat." He should consider that we presently import only 13 percent of our oil from OPEC nations; the rest comes from Canada, Venezuela and other non-Persian Gulf states.
If refuge oil represents only four-tenths of a percent of the world’s reserves, then it clearly will not decrease our dependence. The way to end our addiction to foreign oil is to end our addiction to oil.
Our petroleum-based economy is neither safe nor sustainable. It pollutes our air and water, pits us against other countries in the effort to obtain it and is a finite resource.
What to do?
So long as we use oil, we must conserve what is available and make it last longer by using it wisely.
For instance, upping vehicle mileage requirements by just 3 miles per gallon could save more than a 1 million barrels of oil per day.
That’s five times the amount the refuge is likely to yield. "Hybrid’’ vehicles already are here, with long waiting lines of buyers.
We should develop alternative sources of clean energy. There’s a common myth that developing clean energy is too expensive and would cost jobs, but the opposite is true.
The Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois estimates that implementing a plan to "Repower the Midwest" with sustainable energy (primarily biomass and wind energy) would result in more than 200,000 new jobs across the 10-state Midwest region by 2020, generate up to $5.5 billion in additional worker income, and up to $20 billion in increased economic activity.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center, with other regional experts, has developed a blueprint for achieving this goal.
Our world is changing. We must change because our lives and livelihoods depend on it. Sacrificing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for a few barrels of oil makes no sense.
It’s like sending treasure down with a sinking ship.
Energy policy requires statesmanship and forward thinking.
Hopefully, our elected officials are thoughtful people who will carefully consider the issues.
On this one, they should search their hearts (and take a look at where politics is heading).
They will see that preserving the Arctic Refuge (and other wilderness areas) and calling for cleaner, more dependable energy sources is the right (and politically astute) thing to do.
They will find themselves in camp with the rest of us who have faith in American ingenuity and determination.
We are willing to tackle these tough issues.
Are they?
Christine Fiordalis is chairperson of the Sierra Club Michiana Group, Hoosier Chapter, and lives in South Bend.

Let Congress know to keep Arctic Refuge drilling out of the budget
Young Arctic fox not far from their mother's chosen den.

Fox houses, 'dens' or 'earths' are underground or partly underground, and usually have only one or two entrances.

Mother foxes with cubs often have several entrances however.

The arctic fox lives farther north than any other fox.

They are well adapted for the cold harsh weather of the Arctic.

The arctic fox can hunt lemming that they are unable to see below the snow, but if the arctic fox can't kill enough to eat, it will settle for leftovers from other animals.

They usually have white fur coats in winter turning to a somewhat brownish grey coat for summer.

Mating occurs in early March and early April.

Gestation for mother fox lasts 52 days with an average litter of seven pups that may on occasion see as many as 15 pups born.

They roam around the Arctic - Northern and western Alaska, Northern Canada south to northern Northwest Territories, Northeast Alberta, Northern Manitoba, Northern Quebec.

They are seen in both Arctic Russia, and Greenland.

The arctic fox's adaptation to its subzero winter living include a compact body with short legs, short ears, dense fur, and thickly haired foot pads that insulate against the cold and provide traction on ice.

They have very warm fur coats to keep them warm in the cold temperatures.

Photo: Art Sowls,
Alaska Image Library
Young Arctic fox not far from their mother's chosen den.
Fox houses — 'dens' or 'earths' — are underground or partly underground, and usually have only one or two entrances.
Mother foxes with cubs often have several entrances however.
The arctic fox lives farther north than any other fox.
They are well adapted for the cold harsh weather of the Arctic.
The arctic fox can hunt lemming that they are unable to see below the snow, but if the arctic fox can't kill enough to eat, it will settle for leftovers from other animals.
They usually have white fur coats in winter turning to a somewhat brownish grey coat for summer.
Mating occurs in early March and early April.
Gestation for mother fox lasts 52 days with an average litter of seven pups that may on occasion see as many as 15 pups born.
They roam around the Arctic: Northern and western Alaska, Northern Canada south to northern Northwest Territories, Northeast Alberta, Northern Manitoba, Northern Quebec.
They are seen in both Arctic Russia, and Greenland.
The arctic fox's adaptation to its sub-zero winter living include a compact body with short legs, short ears, dense fur, and thickly haired foot pads that insulate against the cold and provide traction on ice.
They have very warm fur coats to keep them warm in the cold temperatures.
Photo: Art Sowls
Alaska Image Library
“Yukon—Alcan Highway”
Photo:  Canada Triangulation party of John Bowie.  1943
Commercial forestry has fragmented and depleted the boreal forests in northern Arctic Russia and northern Scandinavia and Finland.
The increase in the harvesting of timber for pulp, paper and wood products on the boderline of the tundra is eliminating the remaining biodiversity of these once thriving systems.
The wood-processing industry, with its ability to use more of the available forest materials, began, in the middle of the twentieth century, to devastate large tracts of Arctic forest.
Clear cutting, has resulted in few areas remaining of virgin forest.
The old trees that do remain are precious amongst the dwindling virgin forests globally.
They are especially precious for their genetic stock, if there is to be a regeneration of new endemic forests.
Because of the harsh climate in the arctic regions, once the boreal forests are cut they are able to regenerate only extremely slowly.
Despite this, a considerable amount of commercial cutting is now occurring at the important transition zone at the northern boreal forest edge and the treeless tundra.


Photo: Alaska Image Library
Photo: Alaska Image Library
Much of the reforestation taking place is with the planting of non-endemic tree species.
This in itself creates fragmentations of a once vast former forest ecosystem, a situation that is resulting in extinctions of many species.
Acidification has less impact on Arctic forests than forests in more temperate areas.
Acidification is most noticeable in areas surrounding smelting, where sulphide ores are smelted, or fossil fuels burnt.
However, one impact of atmospheric acidification has been the disappearance of sensitive invertebrates from lakes and streams.
Several fish species are being affected by low-level acidification during the spring snowmelt.
The prognosis for the future of the remaining Arctic forests is mixed.
In some commercial forestry areas, new and innovative management regimes are being implemented to allow sustainable exploitation of the natural forest systems.
Areas in north Sweden and Finland have been given national park or nature reserve status to protect against deforestation.
As yet this has not been duplicated in Norway, or the Russian Federation.
In these countries, as in Canada and other areas of the Arctic, commercial forestry and infrastructure development continue in their move northwards, extending the area of habitat fragmentation.
To survive, timberline forests on the edge of the tundra need immediate ecosystem protective management.
Red-necked Phalarope female

Phalaropus lobatus on the coastal plain


Photo: Alaska Image Library
Female Red-necked Phalarope on the coastal plain
Photo: Alaska Image Library
Arctic Haze
“Crepuscular rays illuminate the melting ice of the Beaufort Sea”
Photo:  Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren   NOAA
The atmosphere is the fastest transport mechanism for delivering contaminants to the Arctic.   Transport times can be days or weeks.
The time of year and the prevailing weather systems determine where contaminants from temperate agricultural and industrialized areas fall.
Pollution reaching the Arctic is at its most severe during winter and spring when an intense high-pressure system over Siberia pushes the Arctic front far to the south.
Winds from the polluted cities of Europe and Asia and North America begin to enter the Arctic air mass.
Weather reconnaissance planes first identified the phenomenon of Arctic haze in the 1950’s.
Red Phalarope female

Phalaropus fulicaria on the coastal plain


Photo: Alaska Image Library
Female Red Phalarope on the coastal plain
Photo: Alaska Image Library
Distinct reddish-brown layers can now be observed by jet pilots flying across the Arctic on transpolar air routes.
When an aircraft is within a layer of Arctic haze, pilots report that horizontal visibility can drop to one tenth that of normally clear sky.
Airflows in the Arctic transport a range of contaminants: sulphur and nitrogen compounds and persistent organic pollutants including vanadium.
Sampled air at Point Barrow, Alaska and other Arctic locations show that the haze contains a natural component of crude oil, vanadium.
The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program was established in 1991.
Approximately 400 programs and projects delivered data to the AMAP assessment.
Scientists and experts from the eight Arctic countries and other observing countries and organizations have been responsible for producing documentation.
Further information about AMAP and its assessments can be found via:
          Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) — Homepage
Porcupine Caribou Herd


Arctic Refuge coastal plain, with the Brooks Range mountains in the distance to the south.

Photo: Alaska Image Library
Porcupine Caribou Herd
Arctic Refuge coastal plain, with the Brooks Range mountains in the distance to the south.
Photo: Alaska Image Library
Fresh and Marine water
“Iceberg floating in the Beaufort Sea”
Photo:  Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren   NOAA
The quality of Arctic freshwater systems had been mostly uncorrupted until the development of natural resource extraction.
This, and the emergence of industrial activity involving the Arctic, has had a major impact on the environment in the last fifty years.
One of the most affected areas is the Kola Peninsula and around Norilsk.
Between 1991 and 1994, copper concentrations in water reached more than 2,500 times the locally set permissible limits.
Nickel concentrations rose to more than 130 times set limits.
In Arctic areas of Canada, Finland, the Russian Federation and Alaska, there is a mixture of metals, sewage, petroleum hydrocarbons and other chemicals that are producing extreme attacks on the marine ecosystems.
Contaminant pathways into the Arctic Ocean are from the North Atlantic, via the Norwegian coastal current, from the Bering Sea, and from northward flowing rivers.
Within the Arctic Ocean two major currents, the Beaufort Gyre and the Transpolar Drift, dominate circulation.
Ice forming in the shelf seas is transported into the central part of the Arctic Ocean through these currents.
The circulation and subsequent melting of this ice allows contaminants to be redistributed to deep ocean sediments and other inner shelf seas.
These inner shelf seas, ice edges and polynyas — open-water areas in areas of sea ice — are seasonally some of the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world.
They provide an economic base for large fishing fleets as well as a feeding ground for populations of migratory birds.
Sabine's Gull flying over Arctic Refuge coastal plain.

Xema sabini


Photo: Alaska Image Library
Sabine's Gull flying over Arctic Refuge coastal plain.
Photo: Alaska Image Library
Unsustainable fishing
Besboro Island in Norton Sound.

Photo: Vernon Byrd/Alaska Image Library
Besboro Island in Norton Sound
Photo:  Vernon Byrd    Alaska Image Library
Fishing has been to date an important source of income for all Arctic coastline countries.
The Arctic is attractive for fishing for all nations because a few productive species dominate and there is less waste bycatch.
But, the low number of species means that over fishing can have disastrous effects.
After the herring industry declined in the 1970s, due to over harvesting, the capelin was the next to be over fished.
The stock has collapsed twice since a peak catch of 3 million tonnes in 1977.
At present there are signs of recovery, but the over harvesting continues for all valuable marine fish species.
Commercially valuable marine fish are part of a relatively short food chain.
Eliminating stock means no food for other species.
Many species are at risk from the side effects of over-fishing.
With the major decline in capelin, large numbers of seabirds and seals have become almost extinct due to starvation.
Espenberg Bay Sea Ice

Cape Espenberg, Kotzebue Sound, Seward Peninsula

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Alaska Image Library
Espenberg Bay Sea Ice
Cape Espenberg, Kotzebue Sound, Seward Peninsula
Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Alaska Image Library
Selective fishing practices are also affecting the populations of northern char and salmon.
The selective removal of the largest fish is creating disturbances in the total ecosystems of the marine environment.
Salmon farming, a new important industry along the coasts of the northern Atlantic, is creating unforeseen problems.
Alien species being farmed and escaping are interbreeding, eliminating much of the free local species that have survived until now.
A genetic loss that has resulted in the loss of local salmon species.
Polar Bear mother sow and two cubs on the Beaufort Sea coast.


Photo: Alaska Image Library
Polar Bear mother and two cubs on the Beaufort Sea coast.
Photo: Alaska Image Library
Oil and Gas Reserves
“The first sign of the spring melt — a stream is seen flowing on the ice.”
Photo:  Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren   NOAA
The Arctic contains some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves.
Pipeline leakage and blowouts and tanker spills are the causes of existing and future potential damage.
The Russian Federation with its large oil and gas reserves, particularly in the Barents Sea Region, is expected to continue to increase its output.
Without strict controls and inspections, this is another increasing threat of the future.
The economic pressures to develop oil resources in Alaska is continuing.
If oil and gas production in the Prudhoe Bay is extended east into the Arctic National Wildlife, it can only have major consequences, both for the local economy, the livelihood of local people, and for the environment, for the flora, animals, and the multitude of species that grow and live in the area.
This unless extreme eco standards are introduced and maintained.
In northwestern Russia the infrastructure is old and many of the pipelines are in poor condition.
The pipelines leak frequently despite Gazprom's attention to this concern.
The threat of oil pollution is increasing because oil companies are exploring ever more remote areas.
Large quantities of oil are being transported through thousands of kilometers and unless the maximum safety measures are built into the system, in both the transportation through pipelines, and the requirements for safe shipping, pollution must increasingly threaten both the land and the marine environment.
Two major pipelines exist in Canada and Alaska, the Norman Wells pipeline and the Trans-Alaska pipeline.
Maintanence of these pipelines, and supervision from the installed governmental agencies and from sponsored eco-system specialists are obviously necessary and ongoing.
An additional threat to the Arctic is the recent opening up of the sea route across the northern coasts of Norway and the Russian Federation.
Economic gain is driving the push for quicker sea routes, but the development of the International Northern Sea Route will allow for a greater potential for accidental chemical releases and for other damaging environmental impacts.
Oil breaks down more slowly under cold conditions and the Arctic environment is therefore more vulnerable.
Ecosystem recovery from the effects of oil pollution takes longer, if at all.
Significant investment is required in the Arctic, specific to Arctic problems, that will provide for maintaining the safest and lowest environmental impact of oil extraction and transportation .
Significant investment is required to build the ships that will provide such safety.
Reserve funding is a necessary compulsory step for industry to pay as a premium for use of Arctic waterways, (and other Earth waterways,) funding to restore that which becomes damaged.
Sea Ice

St. Matthew Island Satellite image, Bering Sea


Photo: Alaska Image Library
Sea Ice
St. Matthew Island Satellite image, Bering Sea
Photo: Alaska Image Library
Stratospheric ozone depletion
There is no ozone hole as such over the Arctic but there has been an appreciable reduction in springtime ozone levels and the magnitude of smaller  ‘holes’ has been increasing.
The current March ozone layer is now similar to that observed over Antarctica at the time its large ozone hole began forming.
Chemical destruction of ozone occurs naturally during winter and spring, a cyclical process in the stratosphere.
Ozone, formed over the equatorial belt where the level of solar radiation is greatest, is transported towards the poles.
Over the poles ozone is naturally broken down in the stratosphere.
When polar stratospheric clouds form, about 13 miles above the poles, a series of chemical reactions take place which results in additional chlorine radicals entering into a catalytic destruction of ozone.
Scientists have long been concerned about the presence of CFCs in the stratosphere.
Their chlorine decomposition products have been detected, and their fluorine decomposition products have been detected, however it is now believed CFCs are not the only cause of such vast ozone depletion.
Greenhouse gases radiating energy and heat away from the upper stratosphere are creating prime conditions for polar stratospheric cloud formation.
Stratospheric clouds persist longer each year.
With this an accompanying greater loss of ozone is occurring.
If the greenhouses gases warming Earth’s atmosphere also act as a cause in the lengthening and increase of polar stratospheric clouds, then this is a further example of the unpredictable effects of continued production of greenhouse gases.
The fragile ozone layer shields life on Earth from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation.
The loss of more ozone will mean that exposure of all species to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation will intensify.
It is being debated in scientific circles that the study of ozone depletion, and remedial action to restore the ozone protection barrier, must become Earth’s highest survival priority.
       How ozone is made and destroyed — click here      
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