What's the smallest ocean in the world?
And the answer: the Arctic.
From largest to smallest, the world's five oceans are the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern, and Arctic. Centering on the North Pole, the Arctic Ocean is the smallest and most shallow ocean on Earth.
The Arctic Ocean comprises much of what is considered to be the Arctic Circle. Without any firm boundaries, this polar region is home to some of the coldest waters and extreme conditions on the planet. We often imagine the Arctic covered in snow and ice, but if we define the Arctic Circle as the southern boundary, the Arctic habitats range from snowy glades to green tundra, and from lush forests to high mountains. The climate is strongly influenced by sea currents. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the Nordic climate is milder than on similar latitudes, such as in Siberia.
Around 60% of the Arctic is sea, much of which is covered by year-round sea ice. However, recent changes in our climate's temperature threaten to upset this precarious and necessary ecosystem. Once magnificent ice shelves are beginning to fracture and break, melting to raise water across the globe. Summers, usually tepid, have begun to rise in temperature, in some places rising to the milestone of 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The melting of the Arctic has the potential to threaten every walk of life on our planet. Rising waters could destabilize major infrastructure, discharge mercury levels dangerous to human health, and release billions of metric tons of carbon. Even more alarming is that the Arctic is warming at nearly three times the rate of the global average.
But, not all hope is lost. In order to preserve our planet's ecosystem, we must stay diligent in the fight to protect and sustain its natural landscape. The World Wildlife Foundation suggests five ways we can help save the Arctic:
1. We need to fund research to help us all better understand what the Arctic might look like in the near future. That research should prepare us for multiple scenarios.
2. We need to develop technology to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Once we find out what works, that technology should be put to work immediately and on a large-scale.
3. We need to immediately help people who live in the Arctic to adapt, which may include relocating communities. Right now there’s little policy and infrastructure to help these people adapt so they’re going it alone.
4. We need to give scientists the tools to help us effectively understand and adapt to a changing Arctic. We should support an emerging pan-Arctic observing system, along with early warning components and development of Arctic system models to track Arctic change.
5. We need to create a unified voice for Arctic action with continued global talks and decision-making, especially when that work is forward-looking.
And check out the video for a taste of life this frosty tundra: