The Arctic may become fully protected in response to climate change

  • Chicago (IL) - With arctic sea ice melting more and more each year, scientists want to protect a region they say will someday be the sole remaining frozen bastion of a disappearing world. An area reaching from the northern Canadian archipelago and western Greenland would be the first area to be formally protected because of climate change. This would attempt to preserve the lives of polar bears and other arctic animals in a safe habitat.

    National Parks are one of the most important and efficient means of protecting and preserving natural wildlife areas. Protecting an area that lies within more than one country's borders could prove to be quite tough.

    The arctic sea ice has many three to nine foot thick ice plains which cover the top of the northern hemisphere. The ice melts each summer, but the majority of it stays frozen all year long. The summers are becoming warmer, and melting is more significant. Winter freezing no longer makes up the difference.

    If greenhouse gas trends continue in the way that they have, then the proposed protected area would be the only location to maintain ice year round.

    Protecting the ice will be a difficult task. A warmer arctic would mean new shipping routes and new access to natural resources ranging from oil to uranium and diamonds are available.

    One positive to the protected area would be the protection of polar bears. Two thirds of the world's 25,000 polar bears currently live in Canada - mainly in the high arctic. The bears spend the majority of their lives and kill the majority of their food on sea ice. If the bears cannot adapt they'd have to be restricted to the proposed protected areas.

    The majority of experts and analysts have said that the number of polar bears are declining. Canada is currently in discussion as to whether or not the bears should be classified as threatened. The United States made this classification last year. Other individuals feel that the threat to polar bears is exaggerated.

    This controversy could cause major issues for the presumed protected area, hunting would be restricted and approval by the Inuits is necessary. Proponents of the protected area urge individuals to be aware that polar bears are not the only species involved: beluga, bowhead and narwhal whales, walrus, musk oxen, arctic wolf, caribou, and migratory birds are also at risk.

    Another conflicting issue is environmental interests combined with the possibility of resource development. The United States Geological Survey estimated that 90 billion barrels of oil, 1.67 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 44 billion barrels of liquid natural gas could potentially be recovered north of the Arctic Circle. Extracting those resources is likely to cause damage. Oil which spills can now become environmentally toxic for decades, ship engine noise is capable of traveling for miles via water, causing damage to the echolocation which whales use to navigate.

    This is a long, and lengthy battle. It would require international cooperation, debate between environmentalists and those thinking of the economy. In December the United Nations will hold its climate exchange meeting out of which a global greenhouse gas treaty will more than likely emerge. The commitment to protecting the arctic sea will also more than likely be a portion of the discussion.