Climate Classroom

FREQUENTLY ASKED
POLAR QUESTIONS.

Here you will find basic information about the Arctic, such as the area, how many inhabitants it has, but also information on global risks and why the Arctic matters and how to protect it.

POLAR & GLOBAL RISKS FAQs

The countries surrounding the Arctic Ocean basin and that are part of the Arctic Circle are Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut), Denmark (Greenland), and Iceland (where it passes through the small offshore island of Grímsey). 

5.5 million square miles—larger than the individual sizes of the United States, China, and Canada. You could fit so many combinations of countries into the Arctic: The United States and Argentina, China and Mexico, Canada and India….

The Arctic is home to 21,000 known species (incl. plants etc.) such as polar bears, narwals, seals, Arctic foxes, Arctic wolves, whales, walruses and salmon 

A mix of European and Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Including Sámi, Nenets, Chukchi, Inuit, Yupik, Aluet 

Around 4 million people, half of those in Russia 

Glaciers and icebergs, are frozen freshwater. In fact, the glaciers and icebergs in the Arctic make up about 20% of Earth’s supply of freshwater

Malaspina Glacier in Alaska 

 

USA, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden all have land and territorial claims 

The Arctic is an ocean, covered by a thin layer of perennial sea ice and surrounded by land. (“Perennial” refers to the oldest and thickest sea ice.) Antarctica, on the other hand, is a continent, covered by a very thick ice cap and surrounded by a rim of sea ice and the Southern Ocean

The Arctic is the control centre of our global climate system. Arctic melt affects sea levels, global temperatures, ocean currents, precipitation patterns etc. 

The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the globe (Rantanen et al., 2022)

 

Since 1979 the Arctic has been losing about 80,000km^2 of sea ice each summer – a total loss of 3.49 million km^2 of sea ice. This is nearly twice the area of Germany, France, Spain and Italy combined

There is about 40% less sea ice coverage at the end of the melt season compared to the 1980s

Estimates suggest that the loss of Arctic sea ice, together with reductions in snow cover over the boreal land areas, will exacerbate global warming by 25-40% as the darker Arctic surfaces on water and land absorb more solar energy (Duan, Cao, and Caldeira, 2019; Pistone, Eisenman, and Ramanathan, 2014)

By 2300, the Arctic breakdown is expected to contribute to total economic costs of >$66 trillion (aggregated discounted net present value) under mitigation levels consistent with national pledges at the time of research (Yumashev et al., 2019)

The cost of extreme weather events during 2020 was about $190 billion globally (Swiss Re, 2021)

 

If we look at the 16 Earth system tipping points, nine out of those 16 are in the polar regions, and five of these are in red and are likely to tip below 2℃. The tipping points are the control centre of our earth systems, it is clear that the polar regions are the early warning systems that we should be watching

Since 1971, we have lost about 50% of Arctic sea ice. As global warming melts sea ice, the ocean is exposed, absorbing more of the sun’s energy and warming up. As a result, scientists estimate that if we lose the Arctic snow and ice, it will magnify global warming by 25-40%

There is a lot of permafrost in the Arctic. This is partially frozen ground, which is immensely important since it stores over 1.4 trillion tonnes of highly organic carbon. Today’s best estimate is that permafrost contains twice the carbon content of today’s atmosphere (Arctic report card, 2019). This means that permafrost thaw emissions could use up 25-40% of the remainign carbon budget to stay below 2°C (Roger, 2021) 

As it thaws, it releases methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas, which then exacerbates climate change

The Greenland ice sheet is the second largest on Earth, covering 1.71 million km². It holds the equivalent of 7.4m of potential sea level rise (BedMachine v3.- Morlighem et al., 2017)

Local conditions, including vegetation cover, are extremely important for protecting permafrost

Wildfires in Siberia burned six million hectares (about the size of Lithuania) and released 800 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2021, which is approximately equivalent to the yearly emissions of Germany. 

Zombie fires are a rare phenomenon that occurs in the Arctic where fires smolder under extreme cold conditions. They re-emerge as temperatures begin warm. These fires release methane and other carbon emissions once exposed to the surface. 

The North and South Poles help regulate the world’s climate and weather. However, they are in crisis as they are warming faster than the rest of the world. The polar regions are the control centre for our climate system. They help regulate the world’s climate, influencing the Earth’s atmospheric and oceanographic circulation systems. In other words, what happens in the Arctic and Antarctic doesn’t stay there. The poles act as a powerful insurance policy for the world against runawy cliamte change in several ways. Firstly, Arctic sea ice helps keep our planet cool by reflection ,uch of the sun’s energy back into space… 

Polar change – now and in the future – translates into extreme presssure on food and water security in the rest of the world, heat stress in cities and lcimate vulnerable regions, more extreme weather, and supply chain disruption. Since a growing body of research connects warming at the poles with cold spells, super storms, hurricanes, cyclones, dorughts, fires and flooding. Additoinally, Greeland’s contribution to global sea level rise is primed for catastrophic coastal flooding for more than a billion people around the world, most of whom are unprepared. Polar instability means that all 17 UN SDGs are on thin ice.  

Global warming in the Arctic is expensive.  

Estimates of global socio-economic and ecological impacts linked with Arctic warming put a price tag of billions of dollars per year leading to the 2050 net-zero target. 

Action to take now: 

  • cutting emissions in half by 2030 (to prevent risks to nature, society and business) 
  • no new fossil fuel exploration, investment or subsidies 
  • Business leaders have already developed a roadmap to transition industry towards clean energy, aligning financial flows with net-zero, and protecting nature. 

Global action needs to happen NOW! 

Carbon budgets are critical tools for climate action, guiding the ambition and urgency of action to cut emissions, but still neglect the 30-150 billion tonnes of carbon expected to be released from permafrost this century. 

It’s a business risk that’s coming from the Poles. Climate change is an expensive material risk for companies  

in terms of agriculture, supply chains, water security and real estate in coastal communities, to name a few. It is a business risk that’s coming from the poles.