Losing the Arctic (Book Chapter)


The Polar Regions have long held humanity’s fascination. Of our planet’s two poles, the Arctic is particularly unique because it shares a hemisphere with the majority of Earth’s landmass, yet itself consists almost entirely of ocean. This means that for both early explorers and modern scientists alike, there have been no emergency structures, gear caches or landing strips. For the past several centuries and to this day, nearly all of human movement in the Arctic has been done by boat or over frozen sea ice. Early explorers, like Franklin and Nansen, dispatched accounts of an inhospitable, endless frozen expanse with ship-crushing sea ice and a relentless polar winter that claims all but the absolutely best prepared during the never-ending night. This imagery is nested into our minds from a young age, but that Arctic Ocean is rapidly disappearing. In 2016, a family of 7, including 5 children, sailed the Northwest Passage in a 15m sailboat. In 2017 a non-ice reinforced Russian tanker traveled the Northern Sea Route along the coast of Siberia from Norway to South Korea for the first time in history. Although the entire Earth is experiencing climate-related changes at an alarming rate, nowhere is the change more striking as in the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding coastlines. Every second or third year marks a new low record in sea ice extent, age and thickness, causing an ice-free summer Arctic Ocean to rapidly transition from a hypothetical mind-exercise to a new reality. The Arctic Ocean is entering a new chapter of its existence and it is up to us to document and weigh trying to mitigate it.

In “Whither the Arctic Ocean” (Ed. P. Wassmann) Page 125-133
Sam Herreid
Sam Herreid
glaciologist, runner, musician, writer

My research interests include rock debris on glaciers, advancing regional to global scale glacier modeling and restructuring the financing of climate science.