These images from NASA’s ICESat satellite show the difference in ice cover in the Arctic between 1980 (top) and 2003 (bottom).
Click on image for full size
Warming of the Polar Regions
The effects of climate change are not the same in all parts of the world. While Earth’s average temperature has risen 0.6°C (1.0°F) during the 20th century, some areas of our planet are warming faster than others. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as other parts of the world. In Alaska (USA) average temperatures have increased 3.0°C (5.4°F) between 1970 and 2000. The warmer temperatures have caused other changes in the Arctic region such as melting ice and shrinking polar bear habitat. In the opposite hemisphere, the Antarctic Peninsula has also warmed rapidly, five times faster than the global average. Meanwhile, temperatures of the interior of the Antarctic continent have remained stable or have cooled, which may be related to ozone depletion. Since 1945, the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed about 4.5°F (2.5°C). The Southern Ocean is also warming faster than expected.
Why are the polar regions particularly vulnerable to global warming? The ice and snow in the polar regions, because of its light color and high albedo, reflect most incoming solar energy back out to space. However, as more greenhouse gases cause our planet to warm, some of this ice and snow melts, less of the solar radiation is reflected out to space, and more of it is absorbed by the Earth’s surface and oceans. The added energy warms the polar regions, causes more ice to melt and more warming.
As the atmosphere of polar regions becomes warmer, this impacts the land, cryosphere, ocean circulation, and living things in these regions. Click the links below to discover more about the effects of global warming in the Arctic and Antarctic.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!Cool It!
is the new card game from the Union of Concerned Scientists that teaches kids about the choices we have when it comes to climate change—and how policy and technology decisions made today will matter. Cool It! is available in our online store
You might also be interested in:
North of the Arctic Circle (at 66.5°N latitude) you will find the Arctic Ocean surrounded by the continents of Europe, Asia, and North America. You will find the geographic North Pole and the magnetic...more
Most of us do not live in polar regions. We do not come in contact with icebergs or ice sheets very often. Most of us have only seen these things in photographs. However, no matter where you live, the...more
“Polar bears are one of nature’s ultimate survivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world’s harshest environments, but we are concerned the polar bears’ habitat may literally be melting” said US...more
Antarctica is unique. It is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth. The land is barren and mostly covered with a thick sheet of ice. Antarctica is almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle...more
The Southern Ocean is a bit different. Many mapmakers do not even recognize it as an ocean. The Southern Ocean (sometimes known as the Antarctic Ocean or South Polar Ocean) surrounds Antarctica in the...more
Seawater moves through the Atlantic as part of the Global Ocean Conveyor, the regular pattern by which seawater travels the world’s oceans. The water in the Global Ocean Conveyor circulates because of...more
In the north polar region, the climate has warmed rapidly during the past few decades. Average temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as they are elsewhere in the world. In Alaska (USA) temperatures...more