The climate is warming twice as fast in the Arctic, the planet’s northernmost 14.5 million square miles, than anywhere else on Earth. The heat has brought on a “Great Thaw,” with landscape and ecological changes that used to take millennia now happening over decades.
Some animals are clear losers in the Great Thaw. By the time a child born in 2015 retires around 2090, she’ll be living in a world with few wild polar bears or Arctic populations of narwhals, bearded seals, and ringed seals. These are species that evolved alongside an ample supply of sea ice and depend upon it for feeding, resting, and breeding.
Cultures that for generations have lived in the Arctic-that-was also face existential challenges. Alaska Native Inupiaq people have lived on the site of Shishmaref for at least 500 years. But over the past 20 years, the shore ice that protected the island town from heavy weather and coastal erosion has largely vanished. Now the community is trying to relocate while keeping their culture intact.
But it turns out that the Great Thaw is not a zero-sum game. There are people who stand to benefit and wildlife that might prosper. Who and what will be the winners and losers of the transformed Arctic?
This article was published in connection with Fortitude, the new drama series set in the Arctic Circle that uncovers the unintended consequences of climate change and infectious diseases. An all-new episode of Fortitude premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Pivot TV, our sister network.