The rate of temperature increase in the Arctic is twice the global average. In some parts it's increasing four times as fast. Since accurate satellite measurements began in 1979, the extent and average thickness of summer Arctic sea ice has shrunk dramatically. Sea ice could disappear completely by 2030. Land ice— glaciers in Alaska and Canada, Greenland's great ice sheet— has also been shrinking for decades, adding to sea-level rise. And the soils of the Arctic are warming as the permafrost melts, launching CO2 and potent methane gases into the atmosphere and accelerating the greenhouse gas effect. The changes happening in the Arctic affect all of us, everywhere.

Within the region, climate change may spur expansion of some economic activities, such as energy and mineral development, while disrupting others, such as fisheries, forestry, and subsistence hunting. The region’s infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to melting permafrost and subsidence as well as storm surge and flooding. Native communities are being disrupted and indigenous cultures endangered. In addition, new territorial disputes between countries may emerge, which could affect shipping, mineral development, and commercial fisheries. Impacts of Arctic environmental change outside the region include the contribution of melting Arctic land ice to global sea-level rise, the contribution of Arctic greenhouse-gas emissions to the atmospheric temperature increases worldwide, and the effect of diminished Arctic sea ice and an altered pole-to-equator temperature difference on atmospheric and oceanic circulation.

Addressing these challenges requires the integration of science and policy as both scholars and public decision-makers grapple with change that is moving significantly faster than our knowledge base. The Arctic Initiative strives to contribute to the development of new programs and policies aimed at understanding what is happening in this critical region by initiating new research; by convening policy makers, scientists, and politicians; and by developing a new generation of public and private officials with a much greater knowledge of the factors that are affecting the Arctic ecosystems and their implications for the environmental, social, and economic systems around the globe.