What is behind the most pristine and cold Regions of the planet? – Arctic and Antarctic Regions.

polar-bear-endangered-rule-obamaInternational interest in the need of protecting the environment of the Polar Regions has increased during the last years. This is mainly attributed to abundance of natural resources in polar water, vulnerability of ecosystem, destruction of northern forests and transboundary fluxes of airborne and waterborne pollutants in both Polar Regions.

The Polar Regions are essential components of the world system that provide a unique natural laboratory for studying global ecosystem response to environmental changes, in which potential importance can be analysed by measuring the ozone level in the atmosphere, evaluating sea-level prediction, analysing greenhouse gas concentrations, monitoring temporal variations of marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

Polar Regions1The Arctic and Antarctic are surrounded by species that extraordinarily adapt to extreme conditions. Moreover, there is evidence that species, oceans and the atmosphere in the Polar Regions interact strongly, influencing each other in complex ways and with potentially major consequences for climate. A good example for both Regions is the interaction between atmosphere and surface to regulate temperatures on the Planet, known as Albedo effect, in which potential melting of polar ice caps may alter global temperatures, and thus increasing negative impacts on terrestrial and freshwater species, communities and ecosystems. Therefore, biological approach is not the only aspect for keeping interest in Polar areas, also understanding the particular environment of the Poles gives a systematic approach that may be applied globally.

Numerous studies have been developed in the Arctic and Antarctic for demonstrating specific characteristics of both regions, which have determined valid rationales for considering the Polar Regions as pristine and unique places in the planet that need special consideration for establishing measures that allow their environmental protection:

Arctic Region

  • Variations of the ice sheets in the Arctic region play a crucial role in the process of global circulation of the oceans such as the thermohaline circulation (THC).
  • The Arctic has unique species not found in another area of the Earth that make this Region a significant component of the diversity of life on the planet. Actual contamination of fresh water may have enormous consequences on future clean water supply for communities surrounding the region, but also climate change and introduction of alien species is affecting global reservoirs of water, its importance is due to the arctic holds around 10 per cent of the world's freshwater.
  • Screen Shot 2012-11-05 at 12.24.47Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are an essential group of the Arctic marine environment because have a direct influence on controlling number of prey species and hence on the entire marine food chain.
  • An important component for the support of terrestrial ecosystems in the Arctic is the permafrost, which is any earth material that remains below 0°C for two or more consecutive years. The lost of permafrost changes local hydrology, increasing erosion and declining the number of lakes  (forming a continue lake and therefore discontinues permafrost areas) due to increase of global temperatures, which is currently having enormous consequences on migratory bird habitats.

Antarctic Region

  • One of the most relevant natural resources to be understood for protecting ecosystem around the world are the sub-glacial lakes in the Antarctic. This is due to studying microorganisms’ form in the lakes could help to answer uncertainties about life, regarding adaptation to extreme conditions on the Earth and other planets. For example, Lake Vostok, the largest lake of the 70 lakes identified beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, has revealed small quantities of microbes, which generated interest for explaining unusual habitat for life in the planet.
  • KrillAntarctic krill (Euphausia superba) is one of the species in the southern Ocean that plays a very essential role for reducing carbon, and represents one of the largest protein sources on the Planet. .). Krill is also used on a variety of medical products and actually its management does not take into account the conservation of the ecosystem. However, despite scientists’ disagreements, the Marine Stewardship Council has established the certification of companies for fishing krill and have denoted as a sustainable activity.

Antarctic_15Currently measures for the protection of the Polar Regions are missing on effectiveness despite the variety of studies that show satisfactory reasons for maintaining the habitat and resources of those unique and pristine areas of the Earth.  However, there are several rationales for protecting Polar Regions that may be supported by applying effectively actual regulations that need some adjustments of environmental management and willingness of all stakeholders. Those can be summarised in three key arguments:


Therefore, understanding the impact of past, present and predicting environmental changes on biodiversity and its adaptation of species in extreme conditions will provide information to understand evolutionary process of life on the Earth.

However, considering that research at the poles is not an easy action, due to the extreme weather conditions (strong winds and the cold temperatures) present a major challenge to any scientific explorations, which is one of the reasons for the distinct international and collaborative attitude of polar research. The management of the environmental issues of the Polar Regions should be studied in collaboration for developing a model for solving environmental issues and cooperation in other Earth’s regions.

The significant lesson for effective actions lies not in the need to negotiate sufficient rules or invite enough state parties. Rather, the critical factor remains the ability to stimulate a real global compromise to comply with regulations already created for various global commons regimes. The creation of multinational, multi-group partnerships can contribute to that end, but it will not be sufficient. These groups depend on active participation and financial support by governments, which in combination might weaken the role that private groups can afford to deteriorate the Earth’s environment.


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Karla Sifontes


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