For millennia, the Arctic has lain beneath a blanket of ice and snow—an ocean locked out of all interaction with the rest of the world, save subsea currents and icebreaking marine mammals. Yet in recent decades, rapid declines in ice coverage due to global climate change have begun to unlock what may be the world’s last undisturbed vault of natural resources, potentially opening trade routes dreamt of by explorers since the late 15th century. The opening of the Arctic has already begun to stimulate economic development, and the changes at the top of the world present massive global challenges.
In the Arctic, which is warming two times faster than any other region on Earth, the effects of climate change are staggering. Arctic sea-ice volume has shrunk by 75 percent since the 1980s, and we are very likely to see ice-free summers by midcentury. These and other rapid changes directly affect the livelihoods, infrastructure, and health of the 4 million people who live in the region and have economic, environmental, geostrategic, and national security implications for the United States and the world.
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