In a world that is crowded, contaminated, and out of touch with nature, the Arctic Ocean seems to remain a remote, ice-capped realm of unspoiled beauty. Here, unearthly songs of narwhals, humpback whales, belugas, and walruses sound below while gossamer curtains of aurora borealis shimmer above.
Named after the constellation Arktos, the "Great Bear," seen in the far northern sky by the ancient Greeks, the Arctic, by a strange coincidence, is home to the only seagoing bear on Earth.
Even stranger, the polar bear, which lives far from smokestacks, highways, and croplands, carries in its huge body high levels of contaminants, such as PCBs, DDT, mercury, and dioxins — substances rarely if ever used in Canada’s North. Contaminants flow into Arctic waters on ocean, river, and atmospheric currents from all over Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America. They work their way from the bottom to the top of the aquatic food web until they concentrate in the fatty tissues of predators, like polar bears, orcas, and Inuit people. These dangerous substances can cause major problems, including cancer, tumours, reproductive failure, and birth defects.
As if contaminants weren't enough, an even greater long-distance threat now faces the polar bears, people, and whole aquatic food web of the North — the greenhouse effect. The burning of coal, oil, and forests worldwide is increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Like a blanket, these gases trap the heat of the sun near the Earth.
Scientists predict that the average temperature around the planet will rise by 2 to 4 per cent Celsius in the next 50 years. With winter temperatures in the Arctic climbing 10 to 15 per cent Celsius, the North could experience the greatest climate changes of ail: increasing snowfall; warmer, deeper seas; losses in the expanse and thickness of ice cover; restrictions in the movements of polar bears, muskoxen, and other animals that migrate over ice; plus threats to the culture and livelihood of Northern people, who exist in a close relationship with the sea.
You can help prevent or slow the pace of such long-range impacts by doing the classroom activities and ocean action projects in this section.
Break the Ice
- Go on an imaginary polar expedition. Pretend you're a scientist and keep a journal or write a story about your adventures. How do you keep warm, obtain food and water, deal with total darkness in mid-winter, and spend your days?
- Learn how breeding and migrating animals, as well as Inuit people, depend on frozen habitats: polar pack ice (the core of the Arctic Ocean, half of which melts and refreezes each year); annual fast ice (frozen sea water that stretches 100 kilometres or more from land); polynyas (open water bodies surrounded by ice); floes (drifting sheets of ice); and ice edges (borders of polynyas and floes). How might these environments, and the wildlife and people using them, be affected by global warming?
The Polar Marine Web of Life
In this simulation, you will use pantomime to mimic and identify species in an Arctic Ocean food web. You will learn about producer-consumer relationships and how contaminants "biomagnify" with each step upward from the bottom to the top of the food web.
Fight Long-range Threats to the Polar Seas
- Brainstorm with your classmates about the ways you can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in your school and community. For instance, lessen dependency on automobiles by designating the school parking lot as a no-car zone for one day a year. Keep track of your school's electrical meter and calculate average daily consumption of kilowatt- hours. Then challenge students and staff to cut electrical consumption in half for one full day, especially in areas that depend on coal-, oil-, or gas-burning generators.
- Learn about alternative sources of electrical energy, such as wind turbines and solar power plants. Urge governments to promote the development of these and other technological solutions
- Organize a tree-planting extravaganza. Trees are the ultimate weapon against global warming because they absorb carbon dioxide — the worst offending greenhouse gas — and release clean air.
- Make posters with slogans, like "Put the Chill on Global Warming," or use ocean awareness activities in this kit to encourage your school and community to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
- Undertake pollution prevention projects outlined in "Prevent Marine Pollution" to reduce the flow of contaminants from your part of Canada.
- Northern youngsters may also contribute to knowledge about the impacts of global warming and contaminants in the Arctic by reporting daily sightings of migratory marine mammals to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (see “Conserve Ocean Links ”).
- Preserve the traditional wisdom and ecological principles of First Nations peoples, whose knowledge of the interconnectedness of all things can help raise the general public’s awareness of the global effects of its actions.
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