The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. The melting of Arctic sea ice in recent years has prompted many nations, principally those with an Arctic coastline—the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (Greenland)—to reassess their commitments and strategic interests. Many scientists forecast ice-free summers in the Arctic in a matter of decades, opening the region up to greater commercialization, including energy production and shipping. Yet others say great obstacles to Arctic investment will endure for years to come despite the region's warming. The thaw will also pose new security challenges, as greater human activity induces Arctic nations to increase their military and constabulary presence in the high north.Arctic sea ice is also younger and thinner, and hence more inclined to melt. Less white ice and more dark sea means that more solar radiation is absorbed, accelerating the thaw.
What melting of Arctic means to world
As the Arctic ice cap retreats, shipping lanes are opening that many trading nations hope could rival, or at least complement, conventional routes during summer months. The Northern Sea Route (NSR), a.k.a. the Northeast Passage—a shipping lane across the rim of Siberia connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific—first became ice-free in 2007, and is gaining traction as a seasonal alternative route. A voyage from Shanghai to Hamburg via the NSR (shown below in blue) shaves roughly 30 percent of the distance off a similar trip via the Suez Canal (shown in red), and it also avoids pirate-infested waters.
But shipping will face number of challenges for shipping along the NSR will remain in the years ahead. Even during the summer, the harsh environment makes navigation difficult, amid unpredictable weather and ice floes. Moreover, the fact that Moscow controls most of the NSR and the attendant icebreaking fleet is troubling for some shipping executives, who fear the Kremlin could abruptly decide to hike costs.
Oil, natural gas, and mining potential for the Arctic is considerable, but stress that projections vary. The most recent Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal, conducted in 2008 by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), estimated that nearly one-quarter of the earth's undiscovered, recoverable petroleum resources lie in the region: 13 percent of the oil; 30 percent of the natural gas; and 20 percent of the liquefied natural gas. More than 80 percent of these are thought to be offshore. The extensive Arctic continental shelves may constitute the geographically largest unexplored prospective area for petroleum remaining on Earth
The Arctic's potential economic bounty has prompted the littoral states to update security strategies for the region. A handful of territorial disputes remain, as cited above, but all governments have stressed that disagreements can and should be settled peacefully. Russia and Norway resolved a decades-old maritime border dispute in the Barents Sea in 2010, which diplomats cite as a model for Arctic diplomacy. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of Arctic resources fall within accepted national boundaries.
Russia, the only non-NATO littoral Arctic state, has made a military buildup in the Arctic a strategic priority. USA also starts giving greater attention to this arctic region.
Impacts of Disappearing Sea Ice
Arctic sea ice is an important component of the global climate system. The polar ice caps help to regulate global temperature by reflecting sunlight back into space. White snow and ice at the poles reflects sunlight, but dark ocean absorbs it. Replacing bright sea ice with dark ocean is a recipe for more and faster global warming. Some of the possible impacts of Disappearing Sea Ice are:
Continued loss of Arctic sea ice may dramatically alter global weather and precipitation patterns in the decades to come. The jet stream will probably move further north in response to warmer temperatures over the pole, which will bring more precipitation to the Arctic. More frequent and intense droughts over the U.S. and other regions of the mid-latitudes may result from this shift in the jet stream. Changes to the course of the jet stream affect weather patterns for the entire planet, and we can expect impacts on the strength of the monsoons and recurvature likelihood of hurricanes.
Global ocean circulation
The freshening of Arctic sea water due to manmade climate change could lead to exceptional changes in the world's ocean circulation and thus Earth's climate as well.
Sea ice is important in marine ecosystems. First, it provides a habitat for algae and invertebrates and fish, and regulates the temperature of the water below it. Although it seems counterintuitive, the sea ice insulates the water beneath it, keeping it from becoming too cold. Second, as the ice melts in the summer, it releases the organisms into the water, providing fuel for Arctic marine food webs. Finally, it provides breeding and hunting grounds for marine mammals and birds that call the chilly North their home.
As sea ice disappears, coastlines become more susceptible to battering waves.. As sea ice continues to decrease in coming years, leaving more ocean surface exposed to air, more moisture and heat will be available to power storms. These stronger storms will bringer higher winds and higher storm surges to coastal areas in the Arctic over the remainder of the 21st century, resulting in increased erosion and flooding of low-lying areas.
India and Arctic:
India’s engagement with the Arctic dates back to nearly nine decades when it signed the ‘Treaty between Norway, US, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Ireland and the British overseas Dominions and Sweden concerning Spitsbergen’ also called the ‘Svalbard Treaty’ in February 1920 in Paris. India has been closely following the developments in the Arctic region in the light of the new opportunities and challenges emerging for the international community due to global warming induced melting of Arctic’s ice cap. Today India’s interests in the Arctic region are scientific, environmental, commercial as well as strategic. In May 2013, India became an Observer at the Arctic Council, which coordinates policy on the Arctic. (The Arctic Council has eight states as members, the five coastal states, Canada, Russia, the U.S., Norway and Denmark (through Greenland), and Sweden, Iceland and Finland.)