It was almost a year ago when I had the opportunity to be part of InMER's reconnaissance expedition of the Northwest Passage above the Arctic Circle. As we were completing our route, word came from the National Snow and Ice Data Center that the summer ice was at its lowest level ever recorded. The possibility that - sooner than predicted - the Northwest Passage would be completely open during the summer months, became an important issue because of what that meant for global warming and, conversely, what it meant for potential global shipping by providing a much shorter transoceanic route (See InMER/National Geographic video).
This year, it is anticipated that the summer ice melt won't exceed last year's record due to cooler temperatures in July. But overall, Arctic ice has continued to recede and is much thinner, making it more sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. Commercial interests, due to rising fuel prices and food demands, will put considerable pressure on the region. On the upside, some action is being taken to regulate the potential for expanded industrial fishing in the Arctic regions (Oceana.org press release).
The Arctic is the 800-pound canary in the room. Not only is its condition simply a warning as to what can happen in greater force in the lower latitudes, but the effect of climate change on the tundra - the scrappy landscape that covers the permafrost or frozen ground underneath - in the form of increased bacteria, encroachment by invasive flora, and the release of CO2 and methane, can have additional impact globally.
The Arctic region make look rugged and impenetrable but, in reality, it is extremely fragile. Learn more at InMER.org and Oceana.org.