Tundra Fires and Melting Sea Ice

Devastating tundra fires, melting sea ice and polar animal migrations are shaping the arctic into a very new landscape with a profound impact on a host of global issues.

| March 2015

  • Polar bears fighting
    In the 1990s, scientists such as Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher predicted the demise of polar bears at the southern edge of their range as sea ice retreated.
    Photo by Edward Struzik
  • Polar bears walking
    Along the west coast of Hudson Bay, polar bears are producing fewer cubs, and fewer are surviving beyond the first year of life than in years past.
    Photo by Edward Struzik
  • Polar bear holding facility
    Instead of shooting problem bears in Churchill, wildlife officers place the animals in a holding cell for two or three weeks or until the ice has formed on Hudson Bay.
    Photo by Edward Struzik
  • Kongsvegen Glacier
    Glaciologist Jack Kohler preparing to drill into the Kongsvegen Glacier near Ny-Ålesund, an international research center that the Norwegians oversee on the island of Spitsbergen.
    Photo by Edward Struzik
  • Icebreaker
    Funding for climate change science in Arctic Canada has suffered in recent years as a result of the government's assault on environmental issues.
    Photo by Edward Struzik
  • Hybrid bear
    This grizzly bear/polar bear hybrid was spotted in the High Arctic by biologists Jodie Pongracz and Evan Richardson in 2006. The sightings of three grizzly bears and one other hybrid that spring represented an unprecedented cluster of these animals at such high latitudes.
    Photo by Jodie Pongracz, Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories
  • Future Arctic
    In "Future Arctic," journalist and explorer Edward Struzik offers a clear-eyed look at the rapidly shifting dynamics of the Arctic region. From tundra fires to international politics, changes in the arctic will reverberate throughout our entire world.
    Cover courtesy Island Press

  • Polar bears fighting
  • Polar bears walking
  • Polar bear holding facility
  • Kongsvegen Glacier
  • Icebreaker
  • Hybrid bear
  • Future Arctic

Future Arctic (Island Press, 2015), by Edward Struzik, reveals the inside story of how politics and climate change are altering the polar world in a way that will have profound effects on economics, culture and the environment as we know it. As polar ice retreats and animals and plants migrate northward, scientific, cultural and geopolitical tensions become apparent; Struzik shares insights from wildlife scientists, military strategists and indigenous peoples to piece together the vast environmental puzzle that is the Arctic region. The following excerpt is from the Introduction.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

The beginning of what many people thought was the end of the world began on June 2, 1950, when a small wildfire ignited in the boreal forest in northern British Columbia near the Yukon border and the Chinchaga River.

It had been an exceptionally hot spring, and forest firefighters were too busy battling other fires to do anything about a little fire like this one, which was remote and far from human settlement. Within a few days, though, it crossed into the largely uninhabited wildlands of northern Alberta. Fueled by a tinder-dry forest that went on forever, the relatively small blaze developed into a wildfire of such monstrous proportions that the thickness of the smoke led some people in southern Canada, the United States, and Europe to believe that an atomic bomb had exploded and that the western world was at war with the Soviet Union.



It was not an alien invasion, a volcanic eruption, or an eclipse of the sun as others suspected. At one point, though, flights in the United States and Canada had to be canceled, including one that was searching for a downed U.S. bomber in northern Ontario. In Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Fort Erie, and many towns in New York, it was so dark at midday that the lights at baseball fields, including those at Yankee Stadium, had to be turned on to illuminate the playing fields. Smoke from the Canadian fire could be detected as far away as Europe. Some Danes were so “jittery” when they woke up to see a blue sun rising over the horizon that they went to the bank to withdraw their life savings.

It wasn’t only people that reacted to the dark pall of smoke that hung in the sky. In an article in a Jamestown, New York, newspaper, a farmer described how his chickens, which had fanned out for their midday foraging, “suddenly realized they were being caught by darkness, so they scurried back across the cow yard in more than usual earnest, their heads moving in delayed jerks.”