29 photos show how climate change has ravaged the Arctic in the past decade

REUTERS/Thomas PeterThese photos show just how much global warming has devastated the Arctic in the 2010s.


In 2012, almost all of Greenland’s ice sheet was exposed to melting for the first time in documented history.

Ian Joughin, Univ. of WashingtonThis is a view down the Ilulissat Fjord in Greenland toward the terminus where Jakobshavn Isbrae rapidly discharges ice to the ocean.

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By the last week of July 2019, the rate of melting reached levels that scientists with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had projected for the year 2070 — in a pessimistic scenario.

Associated PressIcebergs float away as the sun rises near Kulusuk, Greenland.

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That month — the hottest ever recorded on Earth — 55 billion tons of water melted into the ocean in only five days.

NSIDC / NASA Earth ObservatoryArctic sea ice on September 18, 2019, when sea ice reached its minimum extent for the year.

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Together, Greenland’s and Antarctica’s ice sheets hold more than 99% of the planet’s fresh water.

Sandy Virgo/Associated PressSmall pieces of ice float in the water off the shore in Nuuk, Greenland on June 13, 2019.

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In the last decade, an average of about 252 billion tons of water melted from Antarctica’s ice sheet each year.

Torsten Blackwood/Getty ImagesIce melting in Antarctica.

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In Greenland, an average of 280 billion tons of ice melted per year over the last decade.

NASA via Associated PressSatellite image shows meltwater ponding on the surface of the ice sheet in northwest Greenland, near the sheet’s edge, in July 2019.

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Compared to the annual ice melt Greenland saw in the 1990s, that’s a seven-fold increase.

Ian Joughin, University of WashingtonA deeply incised melt channel in the Greenland ice sheet transports melted ice from a large lake to a moulin (a conduit that drains the water).

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Greenland’s ice loss hit a peak in 2011, when 369 billion tons of ice separated from the sheet. That’s 10 times the annual average melt rate seen in the 1990s.

Benoit LecavalierOutlet glaciers calve icebergs into the waters of Mogens Heinesen Fjord in southwest Greenland.

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The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. That has devastating consequences for the animals in the Arctic, especially when it comes to their food supply.

Associated PressCaribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska.

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For example, reindeer in the Arctic typically dig under the snow to find food like lichens and grass in the winter.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesReindeer wait to be fed on December 14, 2014, in Scotland.

Source: Business Insider, Science Daily


But unusually early snowfall followed by freezing rain in Sweden’s Arctic in 2019 trapped the plants that reindeer feed on beneath the ice.

Associated PressReindeer in a temporary corral in Rakuten, Sweden.

Source: Boston Globe


As a result, hundreds of reindeer are dying. Last winter, more than 200 reindeer died of starvation.

Arterra/Universal Images Group/Getty ImagesThe carcass of a reindeer on the tundra in Norway.

Source: USA Today, New York Times


Reindeer aren’t the only animals whose food supply has been compromised over the last decade.

REUTERS/Mathieu BelangerPolar bears dive into Arctic waters.

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Polar bears sometimes hunt underwater, but long swims in the Arctic can lead to energy depletion and hypothermia. So they need to rest on ice.

Lee Jae Won/ReutersA polar bear eats a piece of ice with sauries frozen in it.

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Thinning ice makes it harder for polar bears to travel far enough to find food.

Courtesy of Lt. Samuel BrinsonA polar bear dives off of an iceberg.

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Thinning ice also led Arctic ringed seals, the polar bear’s main source of food, to become endangered.

REUTERS/Nigel RoddisA seal underwater.

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As a result, starving polar bears have been spotted wandering into towns …

Yuri Chvanov/ReutersA stray polar bear is seen in a garbage dump in Norilsk, Russia.

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… looking for food.

IRINA YARINSKAYA / Getty ImagesA starved polar bear wanders through Norilsk, Russia, looking for food. Residents say the bear ‘could hardly move.’

Source: New York Daily News


Arctic pollution affects polar bears as well.

REUTERS/Alex GrimmA polar bear cub stands next to its mother in their enclosure at the Wilhelma Zoo in Germany.

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Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been widely used in commercial products like plastics, pesticides, and insecticides, and they take a long time to degrade, can be transported over long distances, and often wind up trapped in the Arctic.

Luc Gnago/ReutersPlastic bottles and other waste in a drain in West Africa.

Source: Business Insider, The Arctic Institute


The Arctic Ocean has become the Northern Hemisphere’s “dead end” for floating plastic, The Atlantic reports, and POPs often contaminate polar bear milk, leaving cubs with toxic pollutants in their bodies.

NOAA photo library

Source: The Atlantic


Climate change is the biggest threat to the survival of the polar bear.

Yuri Smityuk / Getty Images

Source: New York Times


Food insecurity is also a troubling threat for Alaskan Native communities, since they also rely on the ice for hunting. The ice provided a stable platform for fishing and hunting in the ocean, but as it thins, hunters struggle to find seals, walruses, and different fish they rely on to get through the winter.

Mark Ralston/Getty ImagesTribal elder Warren Jones stands on a site threatened by climate-change erosion caused by melting permafrost tundra and the disappearance of sea ice.

Source: Vice


People living in remote Alaskan villages also face flooding and erosion as a result of rising sea levels.

Mark Ralston/Getty ImagesSchool children play on melting ice at the climate-change affected Yupik Eskimo village of Napakiak on the Yukon Delta in Alaska on April 18, 2019.

Source: Vice


These villages are becoming more isolated as ice roads that once connected them to one another melt.

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesAn aerial view of Kivalina, Alaska, which is at the end of an 8-mile barrier reef located between a lagoon and the Chukchi Sea, on September 10, 2019.

Source: Vice


It’s not just rising temperatures that are melting the ice — it might be wildfires too. Research Ohio State University suggests that smoke and soot from Arctic wildfires may have forced melting in Greenland in 2012.

Peter Griffith/NASALocated just east of Alaska, part of the tundra in Canada’s Northwest Territories was ablaze in 2014.

Source: Business Insider, Business Insider


Wildfires are known to break out in the Arctic during the summer season, but the 2019 fires raged longer and were more intense than in previous years. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) tracked more than 100 fires in the Arctic Circle in the summer of 2019.

Matt Snyder/Alaska Division of Forestry via APSmoke rises from the Bogus Creek Fire, one of two fires burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska in June 2015.

Source: BBC,Business Insider


Unusually hot and dry conditions in parts of the northern hemisphere — from the Mediterranean to the Arctic — have created ideal conditions for wildfires, according to the WMO.

AP Photo/Al GrilloA caribou skull sits on the tundra near the village of Anaktuvuk Pass in Alaska.

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If the rapid melting in the Arctic continues, 400 million people may be at risk of coastal flooding by 2100.

Source: Business Insider

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