Being a young guillemot chick is quite hard. Growing up on a small ledge on high cliffs in the Arctic, surrounded by thousands of birds, being prey for gulls, foxes and even polar bears is quite stressful. But even worse, the little ones have to jump down into the water before their wings can support them for flight. This behavior has puzzled scientists for a long time. Now, an answer may have been found.
The Arctic is a relentless and harsh wilderness and travelling in this region requires a lot of skill, equipment and knowledge. But even the most skillful hunters and Arctic residents might come into a situation, in which the difference between life and death depends on sheer luck. Three hunters from Hall Beach, Nunavut, just experienced such a situation and were rescued only by chance by Canadian military forces.
Since the annexion of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, Norwegian-Russian relations became more and more freezing, unlike the winter climate in the high north. And while the ice in the Arctic melted faster and faster, high-level talks between politicians froze in almost completely. But now with spring coming to the Arctic, it seems as if the neighbors also start thawing as well. Both foreign ministers have agreed to meet in March at the Arctic conference in Arkhangelsk.
The energy supply to Longyearbyen, midway between continental Norway and the North Pole, is a hot topic in the climate debate. Longyearbyen is the largest settlement and the administrative centre of Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Today, Longyearbyen obtains its electric power and district heating from its coal power plant, the only one in Norway. However, Scandinavia’s largest think tank has estimated that Svalbard’s future could be green and sustainable.
Next to warming and acidification, one of the most prominent problems of the oceans is littering. Several hundred thousand tons of litter is drifting in the oceans of the world and levels are rising. The Arctic Ocean is no exception: in just ten years, the concentration of marine litter at a deep-sea station in the Arctic Ocean has risen 20-fold. This was recently reported in a study by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).
2016 will be remembered for many things, one of them being the heat. Globally, it was the hottest year since instrumental records began, but Arctic temperatures during 2016 were truly exceptional. As the year drew to a close, the high-latitude Arctic was blistered with extended periods of record-breaking heat. Surface temperatures during October–December were, on average, ~5 °C above expected in an area spanning the Arctic Ocean, from Greenland across the North Pole to far eastern Russia.
One of the major problems in the Arctic is nuclear waste from submarines, ice breakers and other nuclear powered vessels and stations. These legacies of the past Cold War era are still looming. Storage and treatment are cost-intensive and technically difficult. However, in Saida Bay near Murmansk, a brand-new radioactive waste treatment and storage plant is a brilliant example and symbol of what is possible if east and west invest into cooperation instead of arms race. Now, Murmansk governor Marina Kovtun has invited Russian president Vladimir Putin to visit the complex.
The changing climate has detrimental effects on many polar species, especially in the Arctic, which warms twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Numerous studies have shown that traits like reproduction are negatively impacted. However, a long term study conducted by researchers of the University of Washington has found that one of Alaska’s most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change. This could impact the ecology of northern lakes, which already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Svalbard is like the entire Arctic in a nutshell. Especially, reindeer, which are often portrayed as pulling Santa's sleigh, are an iconic species. The Svalbard reindeer is smaller and more sturdy than the average mainland reindeer. Now, ecologists have found that exactly these Svalbard reindeer are shrinking due to the impact of climate change on their food supplies.
The Arctic regions are considered to be the most prominent resource for fossil fuels. Up to 1/3 of the world’s remaining sources of oil and gas are thought to be hidden under the Arctic Oceans. Therefore, a large dispute about the exploitation of those resources had been ignited between environmental groups and exploration companies. Especially in the US and Canadian parts of the Arctic, the dispute became a major political issue. Now, both US president Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have acted and have declared large areas as protective zones, thus banning all exploration activities.