Climate change in the Arctic

What causes climate change in the Arctic?

Climate change in the Arctic is caused by the same ordinary, everyday activities that affect the whole planet’s climate. For example greenhouse gases are mostly produced in other parts of the world but they still have a BIG impact on the climate in the Arctic, causing temperatures to rise more quickly than they should.

Did you know?

Over the past few decades the annual average Arctic temperature has increased almost twice as fast as the rest of the world!

Click here to find out more about Arctic Climate trends.Bird-left

Is it just an Arctic problem?

Climate change is happening all over the world, but it is affecting the Arctic more than anywhere else.  Glaciers and sea ice are melting,  the permafrost (a very thick layer of frozen soil in the Arctic) is thawing and precipitation (snow, rain or sleet) is increasing.  This all means that the snow season is getting shorter.

We expect these changes to continue and possibly get even worse as the Arctic region suffers more unpredictable and extreme weather conditions.

Why does the Arctic warm faster than other parts of the world?


1. As snow and ice melt, darker land and ocean surfaces absorb more energy from the sun.

2. This energy turns into heat instead of evaporating.

3. The atmospheric layer over the Arctic is shallower than in other places – making the air even warmer.

4. As the sea ice melts, less heat from the sun is absorbed and more goes back into the air.

5. Changes in the circulation of the air and oceans in the Arctic increase warming further.

The warmer it gets, the more snow and ice melts and the cycle starts again

What does this mean for life in the Arctic?

Arctic warming will bring both challenges and opportunities.

Changes for Animals

Reduction in sea ice is likely to have devastating consequences for polar bears, seals that live on the ice and some seabirds.

Some species may even become extinct.

On land, it will be harder for caribou, reindeer and other animals to find food, places to breed and migration routes – thousands have already died when winter is too warm, the snow has melted and finding food has been too difficult.

For more cool information about the wildlife and people of the Arctic have a look at the Arctic Animals and People pages.

Changes for people

Many Arctic people rely on animals for food and income.  Arctic animals are also an important part of their culture.  The people of the Arctic would struggle to survive without them.

People living near the coast could face the risk of flooding as the ice melts – and they may even be forced to move to other areas.

For some people climate change could bring opportunities. Less sea ice could make it easier to travel on the sea meaning that some communities would be less cut off and able to trade more.

Accessing the Arctic’s natural resources such as oil and gas would be easier.

What about the rest of the world?

Melting glaciers and bigger rivers are causing sea levels to rise across the globe.  This means that people who live in low-lying areas are in danger of flooding. This also changes the ratio of salt and freshwater in the sea, making it harder for some species to survive.

The snow in the Arctic reflects a lot of the heat from the sun, and the less snow and ice there is to reflect the heat the warmer the whole Earth gets. More plants are growing in the Arctic and they absorb heat adding to the warmth of the Earth.

If some animals disappear from the Arctic, this will affect biodiversity around the world.

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