An international research team led by the CNR Institute of Polar Sciences and Marine Sciences with the contribution of the University of Cambridge has reconstructed the recent history of warming at the gates of the Arctic Ocean, in a region called the Strait of Fram, between Greenland and Svalbard.
The work, published in Science Advances, dates for the first time the onset of warming in the smallest of oceans and predicts a further increase in the future due to climate change The Arctic Ocean began to warm rapidly in the early twentieth century, decades earlier than hitherto documented by modern experimental measurements.
Now, the study: Societal implications of a changing Arctic Ocean, published on the Ambio, tries to do a retrospective on the topic: "The Arctic Ocean is undergoing rapid change: sea ice is being lost, waters are warming, coastlines are eroding, species are moving into new areas, and more.
This paper explores the many ways that a changing Arctic Ocean affects societies in the Arctic and around the world. In the Arctic, Indigenous Peoples are again seeing their food security threatened and cultural continuity in danger of disruption.
Resource development is increasing as is interest in tourism and possibilities for trans-Arctic maritime trade, creating new opportunities and also new stresses. Beyond the Arctic, changes in sea ice affect mid-latitude weather, and Arctic economic opportunities may re-shape commodities and transportation markets.
Rising interest in the Arctic is also raising geopolitical tensions about the region. What happens next depends in large part on the choices m ade within and beyond the Arctic concerning global climate change and industrial policies and Arctic ecosystems and cultures.
Some 4 million people live in the Arctic, including the many distinct Indigenous Peoples who make up about 10% of the Arctic population (Larsen and Fondahl 2015). Coastal communities are found along the shores of the Arctic Ocean and its adjacent seas.
Livelihoods includes commercial fishing, transportation, mineral and hydrocarbon extraction, and traditional practices of hunting, fishing, herding, and gathering (Glomsrød et al. 2017). The ocean is also the primary route for delivering supplies such as fuel, non-perishable foods, building materials, and other heavy items to many communities (AMSA 2009).
Changes in the ocean can affect all these activities. Loss of sea ice has increased hazards associated with marine mammal hunting, to the point that some families no longer teach their children to travel on the ice in winter (Iñupiaq co-author Maija Lukin, personal experience).
Sea ice loss has also facilitated increased access for commercial and non-commercial shipping, which has cascading implications for food security resulting from ship-source underwater noise and ship strikes impacting important marine mammal species such as narwhal (Monodon monoceros), bowhead (Balaena mysticetus ), and beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) (Halliday et al.
2018; Huntington et al. 2021). The effects of these changes are often exacerbated by regulatory constraints such as limited hunting seasons or prohibiting the use of certain species. These and other measures perpetuate colonial legacies, limit self-determination, constrain flexibility, and challenge local capacity for sustainability (Huntington et al.
2017). Changing water temperatures are also affecting the distribution of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus), walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus), and other fish species (Hollowed et al.
2013; Fossheim et al. 2015), altering coastal opportunities for better or for worse (Hamilton et al. 2003). While a strong economy can be good for community well-being and can be harnessed to support the continuation of cultural activities (Baffrey and Huntington 2010), industrial activity such as commercial shipping and offshore oil and gas extraction can disrupt Arctic marine ecosystems and cultural practices (AMSA 2009; AMAP 2018).
Navigating between the perils of poverty and the hazards of environmental degradation remains a major challenge for Arctic regions. Tourism is an example of the connections between the Arctic marine environment and global society.
Svalbard, for example, has attracted tourists since the 1800s (Arlov 2003), due largely to relative ease of access. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism sector provided the equivalent of 618 full-time jobs out of a total of 1518 in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a major shift from earlier emphasis on coal mining (Hovelsrud et al.
2020; Statistics Norway 2020 ). Climate change is creating less predictable weather and, thus, greater risks for residents and visitors. Less sea ice means more polar bears on land, leading to more bear-human encounters (Wilder et al.
2017). Similar questions arise elsewhere as interest in Arctic tourism increases, leading to policy debates about sustainability and cultural and environmental impacts."