WOR 6 The Arctic and Antarctic - Extreme, Climatically Crucial and In Crisis | 2019


The Arctic and Antarctic –
Extreme, Climatically Crucial and In Crisis
> This sixth World Ocean Review (WOR) focuses on the Arctic and the Antarctic – two regions which are, in a very real sense, polar opposites, with some of the world’s most extreme conditions. Besides presenting a wealth of facts and figures about the history and exploration of the polar regions, WOR 6 builds a deeper awareness of their key role for life on our planet. It highlights the changes that can be observed in their flora and fauna and analyses the already dramatic impacts of global warming on these extremely fragile regions.
The Arctic and Antarctic – natural realms at the poles © plainpicture/Bernd Schumacher

The Arctic and Antarctic – natural realms at the poles

> At first glance, the Earth’s two polar regions appear to have much in common: Their terrestrial and marine landscapes are characterized by ice and snow, darkness dominates for half of the year, and survival is limited to those organisms that can adapt to very extreme conditions. But in spite of the striking parallels there are fundamental differences between the Arctic and Antarctic – ­ranging from their geography and history of ice formation to their conquest by humankind.

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The polar regions as components of the global climate system © Nick Cobbing

The polar regions as components of the global climate system

> The Arctic and Antarctic are the cooling chambers of our planet. Having a very limited supply of solar radiation, they attract warm air and ocean currents from the tropics, cool them down and send them back towards the equator as floating ice. In this way, the polar regions regulate the distribution of heat on the Earth. This mechanism will only continue to function smoothly, however, if the interactions between sea ice, glaciers, ocean and atmosphere do not change.

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Climate change impacts in the polar regions © Nick Cobbing

Climate change impacts in the polar regions

> To date, global warming has affected the two polar regions in different ways. While the Arctic is undergoing fundamental changes and is gradually losing its distinctive polar character, the observable changes in the Antarctic are primarily focused on two regions: West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. East Antarctica, however, is also beginning to respond to the rising temperatures.

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Polar flora and fauna © plainpicture/Minden Pictures/Hiroya Minakuchi

Polar flora and fauna

> Short summers, extremely cold winters and vast amounts of ice and snow which reduce the food supply – the Arctic and Antarctic are among the regions most hostile to life on Earth. However, using an impressive range of adaptation strategies, plants and animals have managed to conquer even these areas and have formed globally unique biocoenoses. Yet in times of climate change their future has become highly uncertain.

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Polar politics and commerce © Nick Cobbing

Polar politics and commerce

> As a result of climate change, ice and cold in the polar regions are diminishing. This is particularly noticeable in the Arctic. Here shipping routes are opening up and mineral deposits are becoming accessible, arousing the attention of industry. In the Antarctic, too, ever more countries and companies are pursuing commercial interests. Here, however, the imperatives of environmental policy have kept commercial activities within bounds up to now.

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