United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

The Arctic: where tourism meets conservation


Greenland hit the headlines this week after a vast block of ice broke off from the country's Petermann Glacier. The 600-foot thick iceberg is around four times the size of Manhattan. Researchers monitoring the Greenland ice sheet have said it represents the largest single shedding of Greenland's ice sheet in fifty years.

Breakages from Greenland's ice sheet (a process known as 'calving'), are not uncommon and hundreds occur naturally every year. But the sheer size of the most recent separation from the ice sheet has once again focused attention on changing conditions in the Arctic.

GRID-Arendal in Norway, a collaborating centre of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), closely monitors changes in the Arctic climate and promotes conservation initiatives in the polar region.

Peter Prokosch, Director of GRID-Arendal, says the science world is in agreement that recent years have seen a net loss of ice mass in Greenland.

'Today, we are seeing a much faster rate of iceberg calving than in previous years', explains Mr. Prokosch. But as well as the losses in Greenland, Arctic sea ice, which covers the oceans around the North Pole, is melting at higher speeds every year. This means less ice remaining in late summer and subsequent habitat loss for polar bears and other species. A reduction in ice also means less 'white reflection' of solar energy, which contributes to further warming of the region.

Data from last month shows that the total sea ice cover in the Arctic was at its second-lowest level for July in over three decades. Last month, some 70,000 square kilometers of Arctic ice was lost through melting each day.

So what can be done to protect the Arctic's unique habitats? Those at the UNEP/GRID-Arendal centre believe a new brand of tourism could hold part of the answer.

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