Polar Landscapes

The polar regions of our earth are regions of the planet that surround geographical poles, lying within the polar circles. They are characterised by bitter winds, very little precipitation, and winter temperatures that can reach as low as -40 or even -60 degrees Celsius. These seemingly inhabitable conditions are home to a mass amount of biodiversity, specialised and evolved to survive the harsh conditions of the polar biome. Millions of people live in the Arctic - the northernmost part of the earth. For thousands of years it has been home to indigenous tribes, for example, Sammi in circumpolar areas of Finland or even the Inuit in Canada and Greenland, and the Yu'pik, Iñupiat, and Athabascan in Alaska, are just a few of the groups that are native to the Arctic. It Is inhabited by the Arctic fox, whose fur changes according to the season, white in winter to blend in with the snow and brown upon the arrival of summer. It is also home to the walrus, the only living species in the ‘genus Odobenus’, which can stay underwater for up to 30 minutes. Other species include narwhals, musk ox and the snowy owl. The Arctic consists of the Atlantic Ocean and parts of Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. Although currently a seemingly peaceful environment, it may prove to be the source of key geopolitical tension in the future due to the copious supply of rare minerals, oil and gas found in some of the 19 geological basins. In 2007, a proactive move was made by Russia who launched a naval manoeuvre to plant a Russian flag at the base of the North Pole, an overt claim to extend its influence into disputed territory. The Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater ridge of continental crust, is already brewing as a geopolitical hotspot. The territory is claimed by Russia, meaning they can exploit raw materials beyond their previous EEZ, with another statement made that it is an extension of the Eurasian continent. Scientist are also trying to prove that it is an extension of Greenland and not of Canadas Ellesmere islands, even in 2014 Denmark made a claim. Antarctica on the other hand has no permanent residents. In 1959 a treaty was created to ensure that ‘Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes’ and ‘Acknowledging the substantial contributions to scientific knowledge resulting from international cooperation in scientific investigation in Antarctica’. Science is really meaningful in Antarctica as unlike many other areas of the world it remains relatively untouched and unexplored. Therefore, all the scientific experiments conducted there are of huge global importance such as issues concerning climate change, ozone depletion and sea-level rise, and can’t be conducted elsewhere effectively. A huge benefit of the Antarctic is its ability to measure climate change. This is because information concerning the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and temperatures can be derived from ice cores. This is known as proxy data and greatly aids our understanding of climate change. The Antarctic is also critical for the survival of our species. This is because Antarctica is covered by snow and ice, with very reflective surfaces, meaning most of the sunlight hitting Antarctica is reflected out and little heat is absorbed. However, as temperatures warm and more ice melts, more heat will be absorbed subsequently melting more ice. This vicious positive feedback cycle is known as the Albedo effect. This is where it is important to recognise that even Antarctica is starting to feel the devastating effects of climate change. The arctic peninsula has warmed 5x the mean rate of global warming causing the distribution of penguin colonies to alter, a decline in Antarctic krill and many glaciers retreating and ice shelves collapsing. Even with the current state of geopolitics, one hopes that the climate crisis will face a concerted, coherent response from all countries, committed to stop the ruin of the invaluable polar regions.

By Florence & Maddy

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