Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All rights reserved.

Introduction

The Arctic climate is warming. The circumpolar region is experiencing its warmest air temperatures in four centuries, and temperatures are increasing at approximately double the global rate. A recent report notes that there has been a 7% reduction in ice cover in just 25 years, and a 40% loss of ice thickness. Scientists predict that the Arctic summer will be mostly ice-free before the end of the century if present trends continue.

What will be the impact of this warming on the Arctic ecosystem? Scientists do not have all the information they need to accurately predict all of the consequences, but it is clear that survival strategies of Arctic plants and animals are inextricably linked to environmental conditions. It is therefore reasonable to expect that this rapid climate change will result in major changes to the ecosystem.

This Learning Object Collection takes a look at climate change in the Arctic from a few different perspectives. Ancient Forests shows how fossils can tell us what the Arctic climate was like approximately forty-five million years ago. Drilling for Diatoms and Frozen Archives explore two methods used by scientists to reveal information about climates thousands of years ago. The knowledge derived from these ancient climate investigations help us to better understand interactions between environment, climate and ecosystems. Life Under the Ice provides a glimpse of life in the Arctic Ocean, and how it is connected, not only within an intricate food web, but also to unique sea ice conditions. Finally, Arctic Adaptations looks at the Polar Bear as an example of how specialized adaptations evolve in animals, better equipping them to survive in their habitat.


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