Analysis & Opinions - Georgetown Journal of International Affairs

The Arctic is Transforming… Can We?

| May 01, 2020


As the world rightfully frets about the impacts of a changing climate, the term climate change does not accurately describe what is happening in the Arctic. Snow cover is diminished; mile-thick ice caps are melting at an extraordinary rate; summer sea ice—including the last of the multiyear sea ice—could be gone in fifteen years; permafrost, the frozen earth that is the physical underpinning of nearly one quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, is quickly thawing and buckling; massive wildfires are burning both boreal forests and tundra; and the entire region is changing color—from white to green and blue. As scientists warn of the catastrophic implications of warming in excess of 1.5° C worldwide, the Arctic is already locked into an estimated 4–5° of warming by mid-century.

This metamorphosis has dramatic implications for ecosystems in the region. Early indications show that ecosystems are rearranging at every level. Near the base of the food chain, fatty Arctic zooplankton known as copepods as far north as Svalbard are being displaced by less-nutritious copepods from farther south as part of what is being called the "Atlantification" of the Arctic. At the top of the food chain, predators such as orca whales are venturing into the Arctic farther and for more of the year. Frequent accounts of mass bird and seal die-offs point to the increasing ecological impacts of starvation events and algal blooms.

The word "change" feebly misses the mark: the Arctic is transforming into a warmer, wetter, and less predictable climate state before our eyes....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Clement, Joel. "The Arctic is Transforming… Can We?" Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, May 1, 2020.