Snow, water, ice and permafrost in the Arctic

The New Arctic

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Watch the movie: 'The New Arctic Reality'. This introduces some of the key changes that are taking place in this landscape as a result of climate change. There are many suggested changes, which will produce in some ways a 'new' Arctic. Human life in the Arctic as we know it will also need to adapt.

Indigenous people are amongst those who see the impact of these changes most obviously. Many indigenous people have adapted to more settled lifestyle. However, a sizeable number still spend a lot of time in the open Arctic and have a lifestyle which means that they are likely to see changes in watercourses, ground surfaces and the extent of sea ice.

Changes that have been observed:

  • Snow cover extent and duration is reducing all over the Arctic
  • Glaciers are melting and retreating at a rate
  • The Greenland Ice Sheet is getting smaller
  • Permafrost is thawing
  • Sea ice is diminishing in sea ice and extent

One of the other impacts of this is increased coastal erosion.

How is Barrow, Alaska being affected ?

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North Slope Borough sealMayor Edward S. Itta of North Slope Borough, Alaska explains the reasons for the increased threat of coastal erosion (see 04'32" into the movie). With the usual lower temperatures, the coastline of the North Slope would have shore-fast ice clinging along it, which would mean that waves were further out to sea and were unable to reach the shore. Houses in Barrow are built near to the shore to provide a view over the sea ice.

Waves are reaching the shore, and a large fetch means that they have the potential to increase levels of erosion. This uncovers the frozen ground beneath the surface, and as a result, permafrost is melting beneath the bank, increasing the rates of erosion. Homes are close to the sea front and may need to be relocated.

Barrow's location means that any construction is very expensive, and therefore coastal defensive works have to be kept to a minimum.

The period between 2005 and 2010 has been the warmest ever recorded in the Arctic.


Greenland flag
The Greenland flag

Further information on the changing circumstances of Greenland can be found in the
SWIPA report on the Greenland Ice Sheet.

SWIPA report on the Greenland Ice Sheet cover

Greenland is looking to diversify its economy. What opportunities and challenges does it face? See page 17 of the SWIPA report.


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