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Although the Earth system is constantly changing, ozone depletion, increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, large-scale pollution and changing patterns of natural resource use demonstrate that human activities are altering the Earth system at an accelerated pace. Awareness of this has led to an evolving international consensus on the importance of both increasing our scientific understanding of global change and linking scientific findings to policy decisions.
The Role of the Arctic
The Arctic is characterized by one of the most extreme environments on the planet, with limited sunlight, extreme temperatures, and a short growing season. Sea ice, snow cover, glaciers, tundra, permafrost, boreal forests, and peatlands are all sensitive indicators of change, susceptible to subtle variations in sunlight, surface temperature, ocean heat transport, air and ocean chemistry, and the particulate loading of the atmosphere.
Global climate models indicate that global warming induced by the greenhouse effect will be most acute in polar regions, most likely resulting in changes in extent of sea ice, increased thawing of permafrost, and melting of polar ice masses, with profound societal impacts around the globe.
In addition to being an indicator of change in the coupled Earth system, the Arctic plays a key role in many global processes such as global atmosphere and ocean circulation and includes potentially important sources and sinks of trace gases.
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This page last updated December 8, 2008.
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