Threats to the Arctic & Antarctic's Polar Ecosystems

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over some of the many threats to the Arctic's & Antarctic's Ecosystem. This includes global warming, pollution, as well as resource exploitation.

Arctic & Antarctic Ecosystems

The Earth's polar regions. They may seem like frozen wastelands but they're actually very complex and also very fragile ecosystems. They are the Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems. While they're famous for polar bears and penguins, these ecosystems teem with a lot more, including:

  • Foxes
  • Wolves
  • All sorts of birds like puffins, owls, and eagles
  • Sheep and reindeer
  • Whales, sharks, and seals
  • Plants of all sorts
  • Precious insects
  • Rare microorganisms

But this lesson isn't about the amazing things found in these ecosystems or how they all work together and what importance they have to us. Instead, it's about the threats these ecosystems face.

Global Warming

As famous as the polar bears are to the Arctic, global warming is famous for threatening the existence of the Arctic and Antarctic regions as we know them today. Global warming refers to the increase of our planet's temperature largely as a result of the accumulation of greenhouse gases. A greenhouse gas, such as carbon dioxide, is one that traps heat within our planet.

The causes of global warming are hotly debated but what is a fact is that human activity contributes to it, perhaps to most of it. The ways by which people contribute to global warming are highly varied but include:

  • Driving a car
  • Flying in a plane
  • Washing clothing with hot water instead of cold water
  • Eating meat

The consequences of our global warming on the polar ecosystems are already being felt today, and they are many:

  • Giant sections of polar land ice have broken apart and melted away, which has contributed to rising ocean levels. This affects everyone around the world as habitats and communities are destroyed.
  • The sea ice has receded, thinned, or been completely lost more so than ever before. This has threatened many animals that depend on the sea ice for their survival. For instance, polar bears depend on sea ice to catch and eat seals.

Natural Resource Exploitation

Another problem with all of this melting ice is the fact that energy companies and whole governments have taken note it. It is now becoming more and more likely that places like Antarctica will eventually become warm enough to be exploited for things like minerals and places like the Arctic will be warm enough for oil-drilling on a massive scale.

This would pose as much of an environmental disaster to these regions as mining and oil drilling has proven to be to every place in the world, from the Amazon to the Appalachian Mountains, from Africa to Europe. Just imagine the inevitable large oil spills occurring in these regions, killing off countless marine, land, and avian creatures.

Pollution

Oil spills are one form of pollution of course. But even nowadays, without large-scale polar oil drilling, pollution is affecting the polar ecosystems. See, the pollution people produce in places even as far away from the polar regions as Africa, make their way to the polar regions via the seas or air. People burn dirty fuels, whose toxic substances are carried by the air and deposited on the snow in these areas. We dump toxic wastes into the waterways, which eventually make their way to the polar regions via the oceans.

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