Satellite observations of minimum sea-ice concentration 1979–2003
The Kyoto protocol takes effect on February 16th 2005, providing an important tool against human induced climate change. However, in the Arctic, climate change is already happening.
Figure 22. Satellite observations of the polar ice cap indicate a decrease in summer (minimum) sea ice in the Arctic. This decrease has substantial impacts on much of the wildlife, i.e. diminishing the hunting success of polar bears. It also greatly increases the acute risk to indigenous hunters on the pack ice as conditions become increasingly unpredictable.
The 3rd IPCC report estimates that warming in the Arctic will occur at twice the global average in a range of 1.4 to 5.8º C over the next century. The recently released report, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA, 2004), confirms these numbers and concludes that the average temperature in the Arctic has already increased at twice the global average over the past 50 years. Temperature is projected to increase by 5-7º C over the next 100 years. Already the vast pack ice, so crucial to Arctic peoples for wildlife, travel and hunting, is diminishing- though with great annual variations.
Changes in permafrost and the polar cap in the coming decades
Figure 23. Climate change scenario for the end of the century.
Increased transport in the Arctic of people and goods will become accelerated due to decreased extent of ice. This will not only increase the amount of oil transport and accelerate coastal development, it will also open up new regions for fisheries and shipping. As a result, fragmentation of the Arctic environment will increase, which may threaten marine life and increase the probability of the introduction of invasive species through, for example, the dumping of ballast water from other regions as well as oil spills.
Along with increased shipping and access to tourism, coastal communities face increasing exposure to storms and overall coastal erosion.
Furthermore, vast areas with permafrost will melt, resulting in erosion, infrastructure problems and substantial increases in atmospheric concentrations of methane previously stored in the permafrost- thereby further accelerating climate change. Vast unpolluted and unexploited marine areas and coastal shores will not remain isolated and inaccessible much longer.
This is of particular concern, because these coastal areas are probably the most critical for Arctic indigenous peoples and the entire Arctic ecosystem. These areas are also of substantial global significance. Indeed, mapping of the impacts of infrastructure development on the Worlds coastal areas by the GLOBIO 2.0 model (www.globio.info) indicate that more than 71% of the world’s coastlines outside of the Arctic and Antarctic are now impacted by development. This figure will increase to more than 90% by 2050 with continued development. The majority of the coastal areas are also heavily exposed to trawlers and other forms of industrialized fisheries.
While arctic ecosystems may adapt to rapid climate changes, they will not be able to withstand these pressures combined with industrial exploration of land and marine resources.