Arctic Treasure: Global Assets Melting Away

Ice and snow are defining features of the Arctic. At no point in at least 800,000 years has the Arctic been without sea ice. By some projections the region may lose summer sea ice as soon as 2030. In a sense, the value of this ice is incalculable. Arctic ice defines the homelands and cultures of indigenous peoples and ecosystems that harbor species which are uniquely adapted to this environment.

In another sense, however, part of the value of the frozen Arctic can be estimated in terms of the climate services it provides to the world. Snow and ice reflect sunlight, helping to cool the Earth. Without these reflective surfaces, more sunlight is absorbed, leading to more warming. In addition, permafrost traps methane, a potent greenhouse gas. While many studies have examined the mechanisms by which the frozen Arctic and global climate are interrelated, this report, An Initial Estimate of the Cost of Lost Climate Regulation Services Due to Changes in the Arctic Cryosphere, is the first attempt to estimate the dollar cost of global warming brought about by shrinking ice, snow and permafrost.