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Blocks of frozen ground, known as permafrost, break off into the ocean as the ground thaws along coast of Canada
Natural Resources Canada, Earth Sciences Sector

The Warming Arctic

The climate had become warmer during the past few decades in the north polar region . Temperatures are rising twice as fast as they are elsewhere in the world.

Warmer temperatures cause other things to change. Many glaciers are melting quickly. Sea ice covers less of the Arctic Ocean each summer. Snow blankets some areas for less of the year. Thawing permafrost releases greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. It also damages buildings and roads. Along the coast, thawing causes erosion, like in the picture at the left.

Some plants and animals are moving further north to be where it is cooler. For example, shrubs and trees are able to grow further north. Some living things increase their numbers as the climate warms and other do not do as well. There used to be 24,000 Peary caribou in northern Canada in 1961. But 1997 there were only about 1100 caribou. Many could not survive because were times when food was limited. The number of polar bears may be declining because sea ice is melting. Meanwhile, in Alaska, spruce bark beetles are breeding faster than ever in the warmer climate. From 1993 to 2003 the oversized beetle population chewed up 3.4 million acres of forest trees.

Last modified March 4, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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