The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built into a hillside in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard far above the Arctic Circle, is often described as humanity’s last hope against extinction after some global crisis. While there are more than 1,700 gene banks around the world that keep collections of seeds, all of them are vulnerable to war, natural disasters, equipment malfunctions, and other problems. Except the Svalbard vault – or so we thought. It has been dubbed the “Noah’s Ark” of seeds and a last chance for the world to regenerate if the worst should come to pass. It’s mission is to keep the world’s seeds safe.
The changing climate has many effects upon the world’s ecosystems, some of which are surprising. One of these relates to the effect of the increasing melting of ice in the Arctic. The ice melt is leading to more life in the Arctic sea.
Climate change is posing a major threat to polar bear survival. The polar bear, whose native range lies largely within the Arctic Circle, depends on sea ice for nearly all of its life cycle functions. And rising temperatures are causing that sea ice to disappear.
Hundreds of thousands of reindeer roam Russia’s Yamal Peninsula, which is located in northwestern Siberia, and are herded by the indigenous Nenets people, reportedly among the Arctic’s last truly nomadic reindeer herders. Reindeer provide these indigenous people with transportation, food, clothes, and even tools made from their bones. Reindeer are well suited for the freezing temperatures and thick snow of this climate. But they are not well suited for climate change.
Santa Claus may have to change out of that heavy red suit this Christmas. The North Pole, site of his fabled workshop, is seeing historically high temperatures this year. In fact, it is 36 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it has been in past decades. This is a staggering number.
The Arctic used to be pretty much a pristine wilderness populated only by fairly small numbers of indigenous residents living environmentally benign lifestyles. The disruptive elements of modern civilization were not much of a factor. Because of the changing climate, this is no longer true.
Two years ago, NASA reported that the sea ice surrounding Antarctica reached a new record high extent, surpassing levels mapped since the late 1970s. This seemed to be quite contrary to the global warming trend that is leading to the melting of the Arctic and glaciers worldwide. And in fact, it does seem rather puzzling.
One of the thorniest problems arising from the changing climate is the degradation of inhabited areas that forces entire communities to relocate permanently. Basically, we don’t really have the infrastructure in place to deal with such occurrences.
There is no dry land at the North Pole and under much of the Arctic ice pack. There, the ocean is covered with sea ice. When this ice melts, it does not cause a rise in sea level, the same way ice cubes melting in your water glass don’t cause it to overflow.