Articles - Edu Arctic

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Penguins are among the most popular animals on the planet. After all, what is there not to like about these cute, flightless inhabitants of Antarctica? Even though the birds are usually associated with cold regions, there are also species which enjoy warmer climate, like the Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus), endemic to the Galapagos Islands, or the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), which inhabits the southern tip of Africa.

Glaciers are usually perceived as gorgeous, if rather dangerous, white and blue components of polar and high-mountain landscapes. They store fresh water, reflect solar radiation and shape the functioning of marine and land ecosystems. Unfortunately, during the age of man, known as the Anthropocene, they are also becoming dumping grounds, repositories of pollutants, which our civilization generates as it develops.

Glaciers provide fertile ground for film productions. In “The Day After Tomorrow” the Earth is suddenly plunged into an ice age; “Snowpiercer” presents a futuristic vision of the world, where the remaining humans live their lives on a train darting across the frozen Earth; and the blood-chilling horror “The Thing” deals with an extraterrestrial "thing", dug out of the ice in Antarctica.

The world’s superpowers have long had their eyes on the Arctic. Donald Trump’s idea to buy Greenland from Denmark (which electrified global media) was not at all new. A similar offer was made already in 1946. During WWII, American troops protected Greenland’s deposits of cryolite – a rare mineral crucial for the war effort – against the Germans. Throughout the period, they treated the island as their sphere of influence. For the Chinese, the gateway to the Arctic is Island, which has become China’s hub for business and investment. In 2007, a Russian submarine planted a national flag on the seabed at the North Pole and five years later the Russian military launched a series of trainings to prepare the troops for military activity in polar regions.

Limited accessibility, unfavourable conditions and high seasonal variability are some of the reasons why the Arctic has not yet been thoroughly studied. At the same time, the region warms up at about twice the average global rate and is now one of the most dynamically changing parts of the world. One of the consequences of climate warming in the Arctic is the release of freshwater from melting glaciers. Formed as a result of gradual accumulation of snow on land, glaciers count among the most spectacular indicators of climate change. Every summer, the melting process accelerates and the surface area of the world’s glaciers shrinks further and further, causing serious concern both within and outside scientific circles.

Entering shallow waters, waves grow taller only to break against the rough, rocky edges of a tiny island off the coast of Iceland. The frigid sea laps against basalt cliffs gleaming black in the sun, while among the whirlpools, waves and spume float large black and white birds. They are waiting for the right moment to get onto the cliff and start the climb towards their nests. Despite having wings and flight feathers, they cannot just take to the air. Their wings are ridiculously small, as if they stopped growing when the birds were still chicks. And although they are great for diving, they will eventually seal their owners’ tragic fate.