Region: Antarctica and the Arctic

The Rapid and Startling Decline<br /> Of World’s Vast Boreal Forests


The Rapid and Startling Decline
Of World’s Vast Boreal Forests

by jim robbins
Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the fate of the huge boreal forest that spans from Scandinavia to northern Canada. Unprecedented warming in the region is jeopardizing the future of a critical ecosystem that makes up nearly a third of the earth’s forest cover.

Northern Forests Emerge <br />As the New Global Tinderbox


Northern Forests Emerge
As the New Global Tinderbox

by ed struzik
Rapidly rising temperatures, changes in precipitation, and increased lightning strikes are leading to ever-larger wildfires in the northern forests of Alaska, Canada, and Siberia, with potentially severe ecological consequences.

Oil Drilling in Arctic Ocean: <br />A Push into Uncharted Waters


Oil Drilling in Arctic Ocean:
A Push into Uncharted Waters

by ed struzik
As the U.S. and Russia take the first steps to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean, experts say the harsh climate, icy seas, and lack of infrastructure means a sizeable oil spill would be very difficult to clean up and could cause extensive environmental damage.

Loss of Snowpack and Glaciers<br /> In Rockies Poses Water Threat


Loss of Snowpack and Glaciers
In Rockies Poses Water Threat

by ed struzik
From the Columbia River basin in the U.S. to the Prairie Provinces of Canada, scientists and policy makers are confronting a future in which the loss of snow and ice in the Rocky Mountains could imperil water supplies for agriculture, cities and towns, and hydropower production.


Examining How Marine Life
Might Adapt to Acidified Oceans

by elizabeth grossman
In an interview with Yale Environment 360, marine biologist Gretchen Hofmann discusses how well mollusks and other shell-building organisms might evolve to live in increasingly corrosive ocean conditions caused by soaring CO2 emissions.

Scientists Focus on Polar Waters <br />As Threat of Acidification Grows


Scientists Focus on Polar Waters
As Threat of Acidification Grows

by jo chandler
A sophisticated and challenging experiment in Antarctica is the latest effort to study ocean acidification in the polar regions, where frigid waters are expected to feel most acutely the ecological impacts of acidic conditions not seen in millions of years.

Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo on <br />Russia and the Climate Struggle


Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo on
Russia and the Climate Struggle

by diane toomey
In a Yale Environment 360 interview, the outspoken executive director of Greenpeace discusses why his organization’s activists braved imprisonment in Russia to stop Arctic oil drilling and what needs to be done to make a sharp turn away from fossil fuels and toward a green energy economy.

No Refuge: Tons of Trash Covers<br /> The Remote Shores of Alaska


No Refuge: Tons of Trash Covers
The Remote Shores of Alaska

by carl safina
A marine biologist traveled to southwestern Alaska in search of ocean trash that had washed up along a magnificent coast rich in fish, birds, and other wildlife. He and his colleagues found plenty of trash – as much as a ton of garbage per mile on some beaches.

China’s New Arctic Presence<br /> Signals Future Development


China’s New Arctic Presence
Signals Future Development

by ed struzik
China’s recent admission to the Arctic Council under observer status reflects a new reality: the world’s economic powers now regard development of natural resources and commerce in an increasingly ice-free Arctic as a top priority.

Will Bold Steps Be Needed to<br /> Save Beleaguered Polar Bears?


Will Bold Steps Be Needed to
Save Beleaguered Polar Bears?

by ed struzik
In a new paper, the world’s leading polar bear scientists say the time has come to consider drastic measures to save these iconic animals, including supplemental feeding by humans during ice-free periods and relocating more southerly populations to the High Arctic.

An Obsessive Quest to Document<br /> Earth’s Disappearing Glaciers


An Obsessive Quest to Document
Earth’s Disappearing Glaciers

For the past six years, photographer James Balog has deployed dozens of time-lapse cameras around the world to chronicle one of the starkest examples of global warming — melting glaciers. In a Yale Environment 360 interview, Balog talks about his passion to capture these vanishing landscapes.

As Arctic Melts, Inuit Face<br /> Tensions with Outside World


As Arctic Melts, Inuit Face
Tensions with Outside World

by ed struzik
With Arctic summer sea ice rapidly disappearing, the native Inuit of Canada are encountering not only unsettling changes in their subsistence way of life, but also a growing number of outsiders who will further transform their once-isolated homeland.

Arctic Tipping Point:<br /> A North Pole Without Ice


Arctic Tipping Point:
A North Pole Without Ice

by fen montaigne
Scientists say this year’s record declines in Arctic sea ice extent and volume are powerful evidence that the giant cap of ice at the top of the planet is on a trajectory to largely disappear in summer within a decade or two, with profound global consequences.

Melting Sea Ice Could Lead<br /> To Pressure on Arctic Fishery


Melting Sea Ice Could Lead
To Pressure on Arctic Fishery

by ed struzik
With melting sea ice opening up previously inaccessible parts of the Arctic Ocean, the fishing industry sees a potential bonanza. But some scientists and government officials have begun calling for a moratorium on fishing in the region until the true state of the Arctic fishery is assessed.

Linking Weird Weather to<br /> Rapid Warming of the Arctic


Linking Weird Weather to
Rapid Warming of the Arctic

by jennifer francis
The loss of Arctic summer sea ice and the rapid warming of the Far North are altering the jet stream over North America, Europe, and Russia. Scientists are now just beginning to understand how these profound shifts may be increasing the likelihood of more persistent and extreme weather.

As Arctic Sea Ice Declines,<br /> Polar Bear Patrol Gets Busy


As Arctic Sea Ice Declines,
Polar Bear Patrol Gets Busy

by ed struzik
Polar bears have long come ashore in Churchill, Manitoba, the self-styled ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World.’ But as summer sea ice steadily disappears in Hudson Bay, bears are being marooned on land for longer periods of time — and that is generating a lot of work for the Polar Bear Alert Team.

Mysteries of Killer Whales<br /> Uncovered in the Antarctic


Mysteries of Killer Whales
Uncovered in the Antarctic

by fen montaigne
Two of the world’s leading experts on the world’s top marine predator are now in Antarctica, tagging and photographing a creature whose remarkably cooperative hunting behavior and transmission of knowledge across generations may be rivaled only by humans.

A Vast Canadian Wilderness<br /> Poised for a Uranium Boom


A Vast Canadian Wilderness
Poised for a Uranium Boom

by ed struzik
Canada’s Nunavut Territory is the largest undisturbed wilderness in the Northern Hemisphere. It also contains large deposits of uranium, generating intense interest from mining companies and raising concerns that a mining boom could harm the caribou at the center of Inuit life.

A World Centered on Sea Ice<br /> Is Changing Swiftly at the Poles


A World Centered on Sea Ice
Is Changing Swiftly at the Poles

by fen montaigne
For eons, the polar marine food chain has been closely linked to the seasonal formation and retreat of sea ice. Now, as that ice rapidly melts in the Arctic and along the Antarctic Peninsula, this intricate web of life is undergoing major shifts, benefiting some creatures and putting others at risk.

As Arctic Sea Ice Retreats,<br /> Storms Take Toll on the Land


As Arctic Sea Ice Retreats,
Storms Take Toll on the Land

by ed struzik
For millennia, the blanket of ice covering the Arctic Ocean protected the shore from damaging storms. But as that ice buffer disappears, increasingly powerful storm surges are eroding the coastline and sending walls of seawater inland, devastating Arctic ecosystems that support abundant wildlife.

Arctic Roamers: The Move of<br /> Southern Species into Far North


Arctic Roamers: The Move of
Southern Species into Far North

by ed struzik
Grizzly bears mating with polar bears. Red foxes out-competing Arctic foxes. Exotic diseases making their way into once-isolated polar realms. These are just some of the worrisome phenomena now occurring as Arctic temperatures soar and the Arctic Ocean, a once-impermeable barrier, melts.

As the Arctic Ocean Melts,<br /> A Refuge Plan for the Polar Bear


As the Arctic Ocean Melts,
A Refuge Plan for the Polar Bear

With the Arctic Ocean heading toward a largely ice-free state in summer, scientists are looking for areas that may help preserve ice-dependent creatures. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, geologist Stephanie Pfirman talks about the need for a refuge north of Canada and Greenland that researchers say could be a kind of Noah’s Ark in the age of global warming.

The Warming of Antarctica:<br /> A Citadel of Ice Begins to Melt


The Warming of Antarctica:
A Citadel of Ice Begins to Melt

by fen montaigne
The fringes of the coldest continent are starting to feel the heat, with the northern Antarctic Peninsula warming faster than virtually any place on Earth. These rapidly rising temperatures represent the first breach in the enormous frozen dome that holds 90 percent of the world’s ice.

A Troubling Decline in the<br /> Caribou Herds of the Arctic


A Troubling Decline in the
Caribou Herds of the Arctic

by ed struzik
Across the Far North, populations of caribou — an indispensable source of food and clothing for indigenous people — are in steep decline. Scientists point to rising temperatures and a resource-development boom as the prime culprits.

For Hudson Bay Polar Bears,<br /> The End is Already in Sight


For Hudson Bay Polar Bears,
The End is Already in Sight

The polar bear has long been a symbol of the damage wrought by global warming, but now biologist Andrew Derocher and his colleagues have calculated how long one southerly population can hold out. Their answer? No more than a few decades, as the bears’ decline closely tracks that of the Arctic’s disappearing sea ice.

High Above the Earth,<br /> Satellites Track Melting Ice


High Above the Earth,
Satellites Track Melting Ice

by michael d. lemonick
The surest sign of a warming Earth is the steady melting of its ice zones, from disappearing sea ice in the Arctic to shrinking glaciers worldwide. Now, scientists are using increasingly sophisticated satellite technology to measure the extent, thickness, and height of ice, assembling an essential picture of a planet in transition.

As the Far North Melts,<br /> Calls Grow for Arctic Treaty


As the Far North Melts,
Calls Grow for Arctic Treaty

by ed struzik
The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a warning, conservationists say, of what could happen in the Arctic as melting sea ice opens the Arctic Ocean to oil and gas drilling. Many experts argue that the time has come to adopt an Arctic Treaty similar to the one that has safeguarded Antarctica for half a century.

Unlocking Secrets from the Ice<br /> In a Rapidly Warming Region


Unlocking Secrets from the Ice
In a Rapidly Warming Region

Earlier this year, climatologist Ellen Mosley-Thompson led an expedition to drill into glacial ice on the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the world’s fastest-warming regions. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Mosley-Thompson explains what the Antarctic ice cores may reveal and describes what it’s like working in the world’s swiftly melting ice zones.

How High Will Seas Rise?<br /> Get Ready for Seven Feet


How High Will Seas Rise?
Get Ready for Seven Feet

by rob young and orrin pilkey
As governments, businesses, and homeowners plan for the future, they should assume that the world’s oceans will rise by at least two meters — roughly seven feet — this century. But far too few agencies or individuals are preparing for the inevitable increase in sea level that will take place as polar ice sheets melt.

Climate Threat to Polar Bears:<br /> Despite Facts, Doubters Remain


Climate Threat to Polar Bears:
Despite Facts, Doubters Remain

by ed struzik
Wildlife biologists and climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that the disappearance of Arctic sea ice will lead to a sharp drop in polar bear populations. But some skeptics remain unconvinced, and they have managed to persuade the Canadian government not to take key steps to protect the animals.

Tracking the Fallout<br /> of the Arctic’s Vanishing Sea Ice


Tracking the Fallout
of the Arctic’s Vanishing Sea Ice

Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, has been closely monitoring the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, she explains how the repercussions of that disappearance will be felt throughout the far north and, eventually, the entire

As Effects of Warming Grow,<br /> UN Report is Quickly Dated


As Effects of Warming Grow,
UN Report is Quickly Dated

by michael d. lemonick
Issued less than two years ago, the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was a voluminous and impressive document. Yet key portions of the report are already out of date, as evidence shows the impacts of warming intensifying from the Arctic to Antarctica.

Keeping a Watchful Eye<br /> on Unstable Antarctic Ice


Keeping a Watchful Eye
on Unstable Antarctic Ice

NASA’s Robert Bindschadler, a leading expert on glaciers and ice sheets, is part of an international team monitoring a large and fast-moving glacier in West Antarctica. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he explains the dramatic impact this unstable mass of ice could have on global sea levels.

Melting Arctic Ocean Raises Threat of ‘Methane Time Bomb’


Melting Arctic Ocean Raises Threat of ‘Methane Time Bomb’

by susan q. stranahan
Scientists have long believed that thawing permafrost in Arctic soils could release huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Now they are watching with increasing concern as methane begins to bubble up from the bottom of the fast-melting Arctic Ocean.

Saving the Seeds of the<br /> Next Green Revolution


Saving the Seeds of the
Next Green Revolution

by fred pearce
With food prices skyrocketing and climate change looming, the world needs a green revolution like the one a generation ago. But many valuable seed varieties have been lost – and scientists now are scrambling to protect those that remain before they vanish down the genetic drain.

The Arctic Resource Rush is On


The Arctic Resource Rush is On

by ed struzik
As the Arctic's sea ice melts, energy and mining companies are moving into previously inaccessible regions to tap the abundant riches that lie beneath the permafrost and the ocean floor. The potential environmental impacts are troubling.


The Ethics of Climate Change

by richard c. j. somerville
When it comes to setting climate change policy, science can only tell us so much. Ultimately, a lead report author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change writes, it comes down to making judgments about what is fair, equitable, and just.

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18 Nov 2015: Icelandic Ice Cap Gains Mass for
First Time in Two Decades, Researchers Say

An Icelandic ice cap known as Hofsjökull, shown in this NASA satellite image, has gained mass for the first time since 1993,


Iceland's Hofsjökull ice cap
according to measurements taken last month. All ice caps in Iceland had been retreating rapidly and losing volume since 1995, due to decreasing precipitation and rising temperatures. Hofsjökull’s resurgence this year is the result of abundant winter precipitation and cooler than normal summer temperatures, explained Thorsteinn Thorsteinsson, a glaciologist at the Icelandic Meteorologial Office. Last winter, snowfall in the region of the ice cap was 25 to 60 percent thicker than the 1995-2014 average. Cool northerly winds slowed Hofsjökull’s summer melt rate, contributing to the positive measurements obtained last month.


13 Oct 2015: Antarctic Ice Shelves Face
Major Threat If CO2 Emissions Keep Rising

A new study says that many of Antarctica’s floating ice shelves — which play a key role in holding back vast amounts of land-based ice — could become highly unstable later this century if greenhouse gas emissions are not sharply reduced. An international team of researchers, reporting in Nature Geoscience, said that surface melting of Antarctica’s ice shelves could reach the point where many could disintegrate. Such surface melting has already led to the collapse of numerous ice shelves along the rapidly warming Antarctic Peninsula. The study said that surface melting of the continent’s ice sheets would double by 2050 under both intermediate- and high-emissions scenarios. After that, the fate of the ice shelves diverges sharply depending on emissions levels, with a high-emissions scenario leading to surface melting equaling or exceeding intensities associated with ice shelf collapse. Loss of the ice shelves could lead to major increases in sea level as inland glaciers flow to the sea, scientists say.


05 Oct 2015: Icelandic Seafood Giant
May Be Involved in Endangered Whale Hunt

Iceland’s controversial annual hunt of fin whales — classified as "endangered" by the International Union for Conservation

Watch video

Slaughter of a fin whale
of Nature — ended with a catch of 155 fin whales, the largest slaughter since the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, reports the London-based advocacy group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The EIA and the Animal Welfare Institute obtained evidence revealing the ongoing involvement of international seafood giant HB Grandi — a Reykjavík-based company with an annual income of roughly $230 million (as of 2011) — in the whaling business, despite its claims to the contrary. HB Grandi is Iceland’s largest seafood company and its CEO has repeatedly insisted that the company “is not involved in whaling and never has been.” Despite the international moratorium, Iceland recently has allowed commercial whaling and has shipped whale products to Japan.


28 Sep 2015: Shell Ends Arctic Oil and Gas
Exploration Bid for Foreseeable Future

Shell Oil has announced that it will stop its controversial exploratory drilling for oil and gas in Arctic waters for the foreseeable

Shell's Polar Pioneer rig as it left Seattle for the Arctic
future, saying in a statement that the reserves it had discovered were not “sufficient to warrant further exploration.” Shell began operating its first exploration well on July 30, 2015, in the Chukchi Sea off the northwestern coast of Alaska. But the company reported that although it had found indications of the presence of oil and gas, the reserves in the basin where they were drilling were, in the words of one company official, "clearly disappointing." Under Shell's federally approved exploration plan, all rigs and support vessels must leave the Chukchi Sea before the end of October. Environmental groups hailed Shell's announcement.


22 Sep 2015: Antarctic Seafloor Life Is
Locking Away a Lot of Carbon, Study Says

The loss of sea ice over Antarctic waters has caused certain forms of life to flourish on the seafloor, and those underwater communities

An Antarctic icefish swimming over bryozoans
are acting as important and unexpected carbon sinks, according to research published in the journal Current Biology. Based on studies of West Antarctic bryozoans — aquatic invertebrates sometimes referred to as "moss animals" — researchers have found that those and other seafloor organisms could play important roles in accumulating and burying carbon, removing it from the atmosphere for an extremely long time. The researchers calculate that growth of the bryozoans has nearly doubled over the past 20 years, with the animals taking in more than 200,000 tons of carbon per year since the 1980s. Accounting for other undersea species, the researchers suggest that roughly 3 million tons of carbon are sequestered each year, equivalent to nearly 200 square miles of tropical rainforest.


18 Sep 2015: Genes of Greenlanders Preserve
Evidence of Ancient Arctic Adaptation

The DNA of modern-day Greenlanders shows how their Inuit forefathers adapted to the harsh Arctic environment they called home

80% of Greenlanders identify as Inuit.
for thousands of years, according to findings published in the journal Science. The Arctic is an extreme environment, characterized by a cold climate and sparse vegetation. The typical diet of Greenlanders — and their ancient ancestors — is made up primarily of proteins and fats from fish and marine mammals, and carbohydrate and vegetable consumption is minimal. By collecting genetic information from 4,500 modern Greenlanders, researchers determined which genes have changed the most over the roughly 20,000 years since Greenlanders' most ancient Inuit ancestors separated from their nearest East Asian relatives, the Han Chinese. The genetic changes the researchers identified show that through natural selection the Greenlandic Inuit's genetic makeup evolved in a way that enabled them to efficiently metabolize the fatty acids from fish and to live with few carbohydrates and vegetables.


In Northern Canada Peaks, Scientists
Are Tracking Impact of Vanishing Ice

Earlier this month, a team of Canadian scientists braved a cold-weather thunderstorm, snow, rain, and high winds to spend a week working on the last extensive icefield in the interior of the Northwest Territories. Accompanying them was Yale Environment 360 contributor Ed Struzik, who reports on the trip and the importance of the research team’s investigations. The group worked on the Brintnell/Bologna icefield, which has shrunk by more than a third over the last three decades and continues to melt at a rapid clip. The scientists hope to determine how the melting of these glaciers and the loss of snowpack in the surrounding mountains might affect the region’s ecology and rivers, including the huge Mackenzie River, Canada’s largest.
Read more.


18 Aug 2015: How West Antarctica Could Melt
If Greenhouse Emissions Continue to Rise

An international team of scientists has developed the first comprehensive, high-resolution model depicting

View Simulation

Simulation of West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreat
how rapidly the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could melt if greenhouse gas emissions are not brought under control. The study projects that under a high-emissions scenario, the WAIS could lose 80,000 cubic kilometers (19,000 cubic miles) of ice by 2100, increasing sea levels by 8 inches. By 2200, the WAIS could lose 48,000 cubic miles of ice, raising sea levels by a total of 23 inches, the study says. The video shows projected ice loss in the major glaciers feeding into the massive Amundsen Sea Embayment over the next three centuries. The red and orange colors depict the speed of glacial retreat in meters per year. The WAIS is only a fraction of the size of the East Antarctic ice cap, but if the entire WAIS were to melt, global sea levels would rise by roughly 16 feet.


12 May 2015: Unique Stretch Marks Show
Greenland Ice Accelerating Toward Sea

The Greenland ice sheet is accelerating as it flows toward the ocean, and the unique markings visible in this photograph

Greenland stretch marks

Crevassing in Greenland ice
are one piece of evidence demonstrating its rapid movement. Captured as part of NASA's Operation IceBridge, which is wrapping up its seventh season of Arctic observations, this image details heavy crevassing near the coast of Melville Bay in northwestern Greenland. These fissures are essentially stretch marks on the ice, NASA researchers say. Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at an unprecedented rate of 500 cubic kilometers per year — enough ice to cover the Chicago metropolitan area with a layer of ice 600 meters thick — according to one recent report.


16 Apr 2015: Researchers Discover New
Source of Methane in the Arctic Ocean

A large reservoir of methane — a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide — was recently discovered on

Knipovich Ridge in Arctic Ocean

Knipovich Ridge in the Arctic Ocean
Knipovich Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean, according to research published in the journal Geology. The methane in this deposit is locked up in icy crystals of water and gas called hydrates, and it was produced by abiotic geological processes rather than by microbes breaking down organic matter, as most methane is, the authors explain. Until now, scientists had not known that hydrates could contain this type of methane. "Up to 15,000 gigatons of carbon may be stored in the form of hydrates in the ocean floor, but this estimate is not accounting for abiotic methane," said co-author Jürgen Mienert. "So there is probably much more."


09 Apr 2015: Melting Arctic Permafrost
To Cause Massive but Gradual CO2 Release

A comprehensive new study of the potential climate change impacts of melting Arctic permafrost says that a vast amount of carbon dioxide will be released from thawing permafrost but that it will seep out gradually, rather than in an abrupt “carbon bomb.” Working since 2011, a group of 17 Arctic permafrost scientists studied the rate at which permafrost is thawing and the resulting release of CO2. The scientists concluded that Arctic permafrost has undergone a stunning degree of warming, rising from an average of 18 F three decades ago to 28 F today. As permafrost continues to melt, it will release an amount of carbon roughly equal to the carbon released from current rates of deforestation, the study said. The study, published in the journal Nature, said the CO2 release from thawing permafrost will be prolonged but gradual, giving society time to adapt to rising seas and other impacts of a warming climate.


12 Mar 2015: Bubbling From Melting Glaciers
Makes Fjords Noisiest Places in Oceans

Bubbles gushing from melting glaciers and their icebergs make fjords the noisiest places in the oceans, according to research published in Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers used underwater microphones to record noise levels in three bays where glaciers flow into ocean fjords and icebergs calve from glaciers. They found that average noise levels from bubbles in these fjords exceeded those generated by all other sources, including weather, wildlife, and machines such as ships and sonar devices. Glacial calving contributed some of the noise, but the constant melting and bubbling was the real culprit, the researchers said. Their findings raise questions about how the underwater noise in the fjords — which are foraging hotspots for seabirds and marine mammals and important breeding habitat for harbor seals — will affect animals as climate change further increases melting rates.


11 Mar 2015: Warming To Sharply Increase
For Remainder of 21st Century, Paper Says

Within a decade, the earth — and particularly the northern hemisphere — will begin warming at rates unprecedented in the last 1,000 to 2,000 years, according to new research in the journal Nature Climate Change. Examining the rate of temperature increases in 40-year intervals over the past 2,000 years, the scientists concluded that temperatures had fluctuated up or down by about 0.2 degrees F over each interval. In the past 40 years, however, warming has approached 0.4 degrees F per decade. And beginning in 2020, temperatures could start to rise by 0.7 degrees F per decade and continue at that rate until at least 2100. Warming will be especially pronounced in the Arctic, where temperatures are expected to soar by 1.1 degrees F by 2040. The scientists warned that such greenhouse gas-driven warming is moving the planet into an unstable climatic state.


02 Mar 2015: Emperor Penguins Had Few
Refuges During Last Ice Age, Study Finds

The Ross Sea and certain other Antarctic waters likely served as refuges for the three emperor penguin populations that
emperor penguins

Emperor penguins
survived during the last ice age, when large amounts of ice made much of the rest of Antarctica uninhabitable, according to a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology. The findings suggest that extreme climatic conditions on the continent during the past 30,000 years created an evolutionary "bottleneck" that is evident in the genetic material of modern-day emperor penguins, a species known for its ability to thrive in icy habitats. But during the last ice age, the Antarctic likely had twice as much sea ice, the researchers say, leaving only a few locations for the penguins to breed — distances from the open ocean (where the penguins feed) to the stable sea ice (where they breed) were too great. The three populations that did manage to survive may have done so by breeding near areas of ocean that are kept free of sea ice by wind and currents, the researchers suggest.


As Arctic Ocean Ice Vanishes,
Questions About Future Fishing

With the steady retreat of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean opening up vast areas of this long-frozen marine basin, a key resource

A Russian fishing vessel trawls the Arctic Ocean.
issue is now emerging: the future of fisheries, especially in central Arctic waters. What species are migrating into the region as sea ice disappears? And could the heart of the Arctic Ocean sustain a commercial fishery in the coming decades? These issues were central to a discussion at a recent conference on the fisheries of the central Arctic Ocean. With more southerly fish species migrating into warmer and increasingly ice-free regions of the Arctic Ocean, officials from the U.S. and Canada say it’s important to negotiate an international agreement on fishing before allowing fisheries to open.
Read the article.


22 Jan 2015: Draining of Greenland Lakes
Signals Massive Melting, Researchers Say

Researchers have discovered craters left behind when two lakes under the Greenland ice sheet rapidly drained recently — an indication

Crater left after a Greenland lake drained.
that a massive amount of meltwater has started overflowing the ice sheet's natural plumbing and is causing "blowouts" that drain lakes away, they say. One of the two lakes once held billions of gallons of water and emptied to form a mile-wide crater in just a few weeks, researchers report in the journal The Cryosphere. The other lake, described this week in the journal Nature, was two miles wide and has filled and emptied twice in the last two years. The researchers suspect that as more meltwater reaches the base of the ice sheet, natural drainage tunnels along the Greenland coast are cutting further inland. The tunnels carry heat and water to areas that were once frozen to the bedrock, potentially causing the ice to melt even faster.


06 Jan 2015: Penguin Watch Projects Asks
Citizen Scientists to Monitor Birds' Habits

Penguin Watch, a citizen science project launched by researchers from the University of Oxford in the U.K., is enlisting the

Group of Gentoo penguins
public's help in counting penguins in some 175,000 photos from locations across the Southern Hemisphere. Researchers are monitoring five penguin species — Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie, Rockhopper, and King penguins — and recording information on the number of adults, chicks, and eggs, as well as their winter behavior, breeding success, and travel habits. The project is especially useful for monitoring penguins' winter behavior, for example, because it's logistically difficult for the researchers to visit these locations in winter, they say, and the images are far too numerous for researchers to view on their own. Understanding how the penguins live day-to-day should help shed light on how the penguins will respond to an increasingly volatile climate, the team says.


29 Dec 2014: The Arctic Is Absorbing
More and More Sunlight, NASA Images Show

The Arctic has been absorbing significantly more sunlight since the year 2000, according to NASA satellite data,


Changes in absorption of sunlight in the Arctic
a trend that mirrors the steady decrease in Arctic sea ice during that same period. These maps show changes in the amount of solar radiation absorbed over the Arctic from 2000 to 2014, as well as changes in sea ice cover during the same period. As sea ice cover declines and more dark ocean is exposed to the sun's rays, that decreases the reflectivity, or albedo, of the ocean's surface, meaning more heat is absorbed. Shades of red depict areas absorbing more sunlight and areas with less ice cover. The Arctic's rate of absorption has increased by 5 percent every June, July, and August since 2000. No other region on the planet has shown significant changes in albedo during that time, researchers say.


29 Oct 2014: Weather and Climate Key in Weights of Penguin Chicks, Researchers Say

Local weather and large-scale climate trends have the largest impact on the weights of Adélie penguin chicks

An adult Adélie penguin feeds its chick.
— not food availability — according to researchers at the University of Delaware. Adélie penguins are native to the West Antarctic Peninsula, and their habitat is warming faster than most other parts of the planet. Looking at records dating back to 1987, scientists found that year-to-year changes in local weather — including wind speed, temperature, rain, and humidity — could cause chicks’ weights at the time they leave their nests to fluctuate by up to 7 ounces. That’s often the difference between a surviving and non-surviving chick, the researchers say. Biologists previously thought that food sources and parenting played the largest role in chicks’ health, but these findings suggest that exposure to elements is more important. The study "calls into question what happens to an ecosystem when you change climate quickly," principal investigator Matthew Oliver said.


21 Aug 2014: Antarctica and Greenland
Losing Ice at Fastest Rate Ever Recorded

Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at an unprecedented rate of 500 cubic kilometers per

Click to Enlarge

Antarctic ice elevation
year — enough ice to cover the Chicago metropolitan area with a layer of ice 600 meters thick — according to German researchers. Using data from the European Space Agency's CryoSat 2 satellite from 2011 to 2014, the team created the most detailed maps to date of ice elevations across Antarctica and Greenland, accurate to a few meters in height. The results reveal that Greenland alone is losing ice volume by about 375 cubic kilometers per year, doubling since 2009, the scientists report. Ice loss in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has increased by a factor of three over the same period. Combined, the two ice sheets are thinning at the highest rate observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago, the study found. Data show that East Antarctica is gaining ice volume, but at a moderate rate that doesn’t compensate the losses on the continent's other side.


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Food waste
An e360 video series looks at the staggering amount of food wasted in the U.S. – a problem with major human and environmental costs.
Watch the video.


A three-part series Tainted Harvest looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup.
Read the series.

e360 VIDEO

Colorado wildfires
An e360 video goes onto the front lines with Colorado firefighters confronting deadly blazes fueled by a hotter, drier climate.
Watch the video.