What does Arctic melting mean for wilderness?

The sun sets over the Chukchi Sea during the 2011 ICESCAPE mission. 

NASA/Kathryn Hansen


A recent scientific study predicted that the Arctic could be ice-free in less than 50 years, reminding us that climate change is rapidly changing this fragile landscape.

There have been numerous estimates on how long it will be before the great icy north becomes a wide expanse of oceanic waters during summer. Still, all of them note that changes in the Arctic Ocean have been dramatic in recent years, a harbinger of what's to come. 


What does Arctic melting mean for Wilderness?

To most of us, the Arctic is a faraway place that inspires the imagination. But to those who live there, it is an irreplaceable place called home. Native communities have sustained themselves for countless generations on local whales and caribous.

Wildlife like polar bears and seals will likely have less habitat as the ice shelves continue to shrink. This makes it even more important to protect as much habitat as we can, including places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Western Arctic Reserve (also known as the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, or NPRA).

See a map of these places below:

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In addition to the dangers presented by climate change, the Arctic is a place under the threat of oil and gas drilling. Although Shell has so far been unsuccessful in its attempts to extract oil in the Arctic Ocean, the company intends to continue exploratory efforts despite the numerous serious risks. Less ice is already making Arctic waters appear to be more accessible for drilling operations and transportation through icy waters. The Coast Guard has even begin preparing for the disheartening possibility of a future oil spill.

Why does this matter?

The Arctic region is one of the most pristine places left on our plant. While it is inhospitable to many, this region supports countless migratory animals and represents all that there is to celebrate about wild places. We are all connected to this remote, wild landscape and we are all sure to be affected by these changes. Climate change makes weather less predictable and increases the frequency of extreme weather events, like Hurricane Sandy.

America's connection to this region via Alaska means we have an opportunity to help protect this landscape even as it endures remarkable transformations. The Wilderness Society works to protect this important place and we invite you to join us in making sure that this area's special places remain wild permanently, no matter the weather forecast.