29 photos show how climate change has ravaged the Arctic in the past decade

insider@insider.com (Joey Hadden)

REUTERS/Thomas Peter

In 2012, almost all of Greenland's ice sheet was exposed to melting for the first time in documented history.

Glacier Ice Sheet Melt

Ian Joughin, Univ. of Washington

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By the last week of July 2019, the rate of melting reached levels that scientists with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had projected for the year 2070 — in a pessimistic scenario.

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2019, file photo, large icebergs float away as the sun rises near Kulusuk, Greenland. Rising temperatures and diminished snow and ice cover in the Arctic are imperiling ecosystems, fisheries and local cultures, according to a report issued Tuesday, Dec. 10 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

Associated Press

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That month — the hottest ever recorded on Earth — 55 billion tons of water melted into the ocean in only five days.

arctic sea ice september 2019

NSIDC / NASA Earth Observatory

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Together, Greenland's and Antarctica's ice sheets hold more than 99% of the planet's fresh water.

nuuk greenland ice melt

Sandy Virgo/Associated Press

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In the last decade, an average of about 252 billion tons of water melted from Antarctica's ice sheet each year.

tabular iceberg antarctica

Torsten Blackwood/Getty Images

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In Greenland, an average of 280 billion tons of ice melted per year over the last decade.

greenland ice melt

NASA via Associated Press

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Compared to the annual ice melt Greenland saw in the 1990s, that's a seven-fold increase.

greenland melt

Ian Joughin, University of Washington

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Greenland's ice loss hit a peak in 2011, when 369 billion tons of ice separated from the sheet. That's 10 times the annual average melt rate seen in the 1990s.

greenland ice melt

Benoit Lecavalier

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The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. That has devastating consequences for the animals in the Arctic, especially when it comes to their food supply.

FILE - In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. Opponents of oil drilling in America's largest wildlife refuge have a message for oil drillers and the people who finance them: Don't become the company known for the demise of America's polar bears. The Department of the Interior hopes to conduct a lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by the end of the year but environmental groups say they will challenge those plans in federal court and the court of public opinion. Congress did not take a direct vote on opening the refuge. Instead, a provision for lease sales was included in President Donald Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in Dec. 2017. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP, File)

Associated Press

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For example, reindeer in the Arctic typically dig under the snow to find food like lichens and grass in the winter.


Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider, Science Daily

But unusually early snowfall followed by freezing rain in Sweden's Arctic in 2019 trapped the plants that reindeer feed on beneath the ice.

In this Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, Reindeer in a temporary corral in Rakten, outside of Jokkmokk, before being transported to winter pastures. A collaboration between reindeer herders and scientists is attempting to shed light on dramatic weather changes and develop tools to better predict weather events and their impacts. Unusual weather patterns in Sweden’s arctic region seem to be jeopardising the migrating animals’ traditional grazing grounds, as rainfall during the winter has led to thick layers of snowy ice that block access to food. (AP Photo/Malin Moberg)

Associated Press

Source: Boston Globe

As a result, hundreds of reindeer are dying. Last winter, more than 200 reindeer died of starvation.

Reindeer carcass Svalbard

Arterra/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Source: USA Today, New York Times

Reindeer aren't the only animals whose food supply has been compromised over the last decade.

diving polar bear

REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

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Polar bears sometimes hunt underwater, but long swims in the Arctic can lead to energy depletion and hypothermia. So they need to rest on ice.

polar bear

Lee Jae Won/Reuters

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Thinning ice makes it harder for polar bears to travel far enough to find food.

Polar bear on an iceberg

Courtesy of Lt. Samuel Brinson

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Thinning ice also led Arctic ringed seals, the polar bear's main source of food, to become endangered.


REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

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As a result, starving polar bears have been spotted wandering into towns ...

starving polar bear

Yuri Chvanov/Reuters

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... looking for food.

Polar Bear Russian town


Source: New York Daily News

Arctic pollution affects polar bears as well.

polar bear cub

REUTERS/Alex Grimm

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Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been widely used in commercial products like plastics, pesticides, and insecticides, and they take a long time to degrade, can be transported over long distances, and often wind up trapped in the Arctic.

Plastic bottles and other waste are seen in a drain in West Africa

Luc Gnago/Reuters

Source: Business Insider, The Arctic Institute

The Arctic Ocean has become the Northern Hemisphere's "dead end" for floating plastic, The Atlantic reports, and POPs often contaminate polar bear milk, leaving cubs with toxic pollutants in their bodies.

polar bear and cub

NOAA photo library

Source: The Atlantic

Climate change is the biggest threat to the survival of the polar bear.

Polar Bear climate change

Yuri Smityuk / Getty Images

Source: New York Times

Food insecurity is also a troubling threat for Alaskan Native communities, since they also rely on the ice for hunting. The ice provided a stable platform for fishing and hunting in the ocean, but as it thins, hunters struggle to find seals, walruses, and different fish they rely on to get through the winter.

alaska native climate

Mark Ralston/Getty Images

Source: Vice

People living in remote Alaskan villages also face flooding and erosion as a result of rising sea levels.

Yupik Eskimo village

Mark Ralston/Getty Images

Source: Vice

These villages are becoming more isolated as ice roads that once connected them to one another melt.

Kivalina, Alaska.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Source: Vice

It's not just rising temperatures that are melting the ice — it might be wildfires, too. Research from Ohio State University suggests that smoke and soot from Arctic wildfires may have forced melting in Greenland in 2012.

arctic fire 2014

Peter Griffith/NASA

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Wildfires are known to break out in the Arctic during the summer season, but the 2019 fires raged longer and were more intense than in previous years. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) tracked more than 100 fires in the Arctic Circle in the summer of 2019.

alaska wildfire

Matt Snyder/Alaska Division of Forestry via AP

Source: BBC, Business Insider

Unusually hot and dry conditions in parts of the northern hemisphere — from the Mediterranean to the Arctic — have created ideal conditions for wildfires, according to the WMO.

Alaska Arctic Tundra

AP Photo/Al Grillo

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If the rapid melting in the Arctic continues, 400 million people may be at risk of coastal flooding by 2100.

arctic sea ice melting

NASA via Reuters

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