by Kimberley R. Miner, Ph.D., opinion contributor – 11/26/21 12:30 PM ET
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill
The warship HMS Terror lies at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean in the Northwest passage, lost in 1848 after two grueling years stuck in the Arctic ice. Rescue missions launched to recover the ship in 1851 suffered the same fate, crushed under the year-round ice that encased Northern Canada and the Arctic Ocean. But in 2016 — just 168 years later — the Victoria Strait was clear of ice, allowing the recovery of the HMS Terror and beckoning exploration of the most northern reaches of the globe.
The Arctic is iconic for maintaining year-round ice and snow, but in the last decade, it has begun to transition to wetlands and open ocean. Emblematic of this change, in July 2020, the last intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic fell into the sea. Since first analyzed in 1902, the Milne ice sheet already lost 43 percent of its previous mass. Canada’s Ellesmere Island ice caps were also lost in the summer of 2020, as the ice deposited during the Little Ice Age (1600 to 1850) melted completely. Glacier melt, thawing permafrost and wetland expansion create a new landscape, changing ecosystems as well as altering the global atmosphere and ocean circulation.