Global Impacts of a Warming Arctic

The threat of climate change in the Arctic is clear; warming is occurring twice as fast in this region than anywhere else. Consequences are already occurring through global sea level rise, widespread wildfires, permafrost thaw, and extreme weather.

WHRC scientists investigate the urgent issue of the warming Arctic and educate policy makers and the public. In pursuit of this goal, we are leading a coalition of scientific, policy, and public interest organizations who have joined forces to communicate the global consequences of unmitigated climate change in the Arctic.


Locked within ancient frozen soils, known as permafrost, is more than twice the carbon than has been emitted through fossil fuel combustion to date. The potential release of greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost constitutes a major global threat. Our scientists work to identify how much carbon is contained in permafrost, how fast emissions are occurring and how these emissions will affect the climate.


Arctic Great Rivers Observatory

Permafrost thaw, fires, and other effects of climate change impact rivers in the Arctic and the people who depend on them. WHRC scientists are improving the understanding of how climate change is impacting rivers and their watersheds. Much as human health can be evaluated by analyzing blood chemistry, so too can watershed health be assessed by monitoring water chemistry.

Fire and the Arctic Climate

Warmer winters and reductions in precipitation are fueling a major increase in fires in the Arctic. These trends are expected to worsen with climate change, particularly in the high-latitude boreal forests of North America and Eurasia. These forests are an integral part of the Earth’s ecosystem with important influences on the global cycling of energy, carbon and water. WHRC scientists are working to understand the vulnerability of these forests to climate change and to communicate the impacts of growing fire disturbances.


Related Projects

Arctic PermafrostPermafrost-Denali-National-Park
WHRC works in places where great stores of terrestrial carbon are at risk – threatening the global climate system. Locked within the ancient frozen soils is more carbon than has been emitted through fossil fuel combustion to date.
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Global RiversGlobal-Rivers-Orinoco
To a large degree, river water chemistry is a function of processes occurring in the river’s watershed. As a result, changes on land also lead to changes in river chemistry. Watershed health be assessed by monitoring river water chemistry.
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Ecosystems and Climate ChangeEcosystems-jungle
Climate change is altering natural ecosystems by transforming landscapes, and changing animal and plant species distribution and biodiversity. These changes reflect a shift in terrestrial carbon.
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Global CarbonGlobal-Carbon-sky
Global warming is driven by the increase in concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due primarily to fossil fuel combustion. Changes in land use, such as deforestation for agriculture, represent a smaller fraction.
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Forest Monitoring
It is estimated that the forests of the world contain 450 billion tons of carbon, an amount equal to 45 years of fossil fuel combustion at the current rate. Each year, 1 billion tons of this carbon is released into the atmosphere through deforestation.
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