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GEO-6 Regional Assessment for North America


these conclusions have been disputed (Post et al. 2009a; Post et al. 2008). Adjustment via phenotypic plasticity–the ability to manifest inherited ability to physically adjust to environmental variations, such as growing thinner or thicker coats–will likely dominate vertebrate responses to rapid Arctic climate change, and many such adjustments have already been documented (Gilg et al. 2012).


2.7.9 The human experience


Approximately 4 million people live in the Arctic, similar to the population of New Zealand or the Republic of Ireland. About 3.6 million live in larger towns or cities, and work in businesses or industries such as mining and oil and gas extraction. At least 400 000 people, the population of Malta or the Maldives, are indigenous people from different ethnic groups whose ancestors have lived in the Arctic for millennia. Many of these indigenous groups are associated with specific regions or lands and live mostly in small, remote settlements (Galloway-McLean 2010; Nakashima et al. 2012; Bogoyavlenskiy and Siggner 2004). The Arctic environment is the center of their identity, well-being, and culture with livelihoods dependent on reindeer herding, hunting, sealing, whaling, and fishing (Galloway-McLean 2010). These unique and diverse Arctic communities face an uncertain future. Many indigenous peoples are considered particularly vulnerable to climate change and development (Larsen et al. 2014). Thawing permafrost poses particularly significant and severe challenges, erosion-induced damage to buildings, roads pipes and key infrastructure. Low-lying communities and those situated along coasts have become increasingly vulnerable in the Arctic.


Most Arctic human communities, especially indigenous peoples, are already affected by interconnected climate- related factors that include reductions in sea ice thickness and extent, changes in seasonal ice and melt/freeze of lakes and rivers, increased permafrost thaw, more extreme and unpredictable weather and severe storms, changing water temperatures, sea level rise, flooding, increased coastal erosion, and changes in precipitation timing and type (Bennett et al. 2014; Larsen et al. 2014). These stresses


126 Sea Ice + benthic community


 human subsistence actiities  human comerica actiities


Figure 2.7.5: Response of marine mammal species to sea ice loss mediated by their reliance on it for key aspects of their survival


Losing habitat Ice-obligate species


Polar bear Walrus


Bearded seal Ringed seal


Ice-associated species


Harp seal Hooded seal Ribbon seal oed sea Beluga


Narwhal Bowhead whale Gaining habitat


Seasonally migrant species Fin whale


Minke whale Humpback whale Gray whale Killer whale


Sea Ice + pelagic community


 human subsistence actiities  human comerica actiities


The dramatic loss of sea ice area and thickness over the past decade has stressed some populations of ice-obligate species but has been advantageous for seasonally migrant species. Source: Adapted from Bhatt et al. 2014


create challenges for communities to maintain their social, cultural, economic, and physical health and well-being due to food insecurity, damage to critical infrastructure, lack of access to clean water, injury and risk from extreme weather, more difficult access to subsistence species, forced relocation of communities, and loss of culture (Bennett et al. 2014; Larsen et al. 2014; Maynard 2013; Parkinson 2009).


When considering these various climate related conseq- uences for the people of the Arctic, it is important to keep in mind that there are multiple additional environmental stressors increasingly affecting them. These include local and long-range contaminants like persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, and radionuclides.


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