Viewed in satellite images as a jagged white coat draped over the top of the globe, the high Arctic appears distant and isolated. Its vast expanses of ice and sky, blinding summer sun and frigid, foreboding winters, and the swirling aurora borealis give it an almost otherworldly air. But even if you don’t live there, don’t do business there, and will never travel there, you are closer to the Arctic than you think.
Wherever you are, you are connected to the Arctic through Earth itself.
The Arctic region includes the Arctic Ocean and parts of Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. Although remote to most of Earth’s inhabitants, the Arctic is tied to every point on the globe through land, sea, or air. Our daily weather, what we eat, and coastal flooding are all tied to the future of the Arctic.
Wherever you are, you are connected to the Arctic through the ecosystems that sustain life.
Plants and animals observe no borders. As the Arctic changes, the availability of many of the resources on which we depend will also change. The physical, ecological, and human realms of the Arctic are inextricably linked. And in all three dimensions, what happens in the Arctic affects the rest of the world.
The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, shines above Bear Lake, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.
Source: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Joshua Strang
The 8th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, Kiruna, Sweden, May 2013.
Source: The Arctic Council.
What is the Arctic Council?
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum representing eight member states (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States) and six Arctic indigenous groups. Since its establishment in 1996, the Council has promoted cooperation, coordination, and interaction among its member states and partner communities. By engaging governments, indigenous groups, and other Arctic inhabitants, the Council advances awareness and action on issues such as sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. The United States serves as Chair of the Council for the 2015–2017 term.
Finally, wherever you are, you are connected to the Arctic through human beings.
People have lived in the Arctic for millennia, and today the region is home to some four million people. These people contribute to society’s cultural heritage diversity, and provide a historical record of the region. Increasingly, the Arctic serves as a source of natural resources and a place to visit, study, and travel through.
This booklet is intended to introduce the Arctic to those unfamiliar with the importance of this remarkable place in the past, present, and future of our planet. It draws from a collection of peer-reviewed reports of the National Research Council, the operational arm of the non-profit U.S. National Academy of Sciences and U.S. National Academy of Engineering that provides independent advice on issues of science and technology, as well as from other national and international reports. These reports collectively represent authoritative assessments prepared and reviewed by independent experts, including leaders in climate and atmospheric sciences, environmental science, oceanography, ecology, defense, business, anthropology, and many other fields.
The National Research Council developed this booklet, in recognition of the United States becoming Chair of the Arctic Council for the 2015–2017 term, to provide a primer on the complex ways in which the Arctic and its diverse people, resources, and environment affect us all — in short, why the Arctic matters.