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Special issue on the Arctic: After the ice

As the Arctic thaws, can science help to chart a sustainable path for the north?

Special on the Arctic Credit: Keenpress/National Geographic Stock

Last winter, parts of the Canadian Arctic basked in record-breaking warmth. In the town of Coral Harbour, at the mouth of Hudson Bay, temperatures rose above freezing for a few days in January for the first time ever. Across the Arctic, extreme climate conditions are becoming the norm, even as the region faces other profound changes, such as the growing political power of indigenous peoples and the race to extract mineral resources (see page 172).

This week, Nature examines how these changes are affecting scientific access to the north (see page 174), and what scientists should do to keep Arctic development green (see page 179) and peaceful (see page 180). Some are calling for international regulations to safeguard the environment as ship traffic increases (see page 157). Both research and development need to consider the views of local peoples, and scientists are learning how to do so (see page 182). Locals can provide insight into environmental changes; scientists might help them to be heard.

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There is a long tradition of international scientific cooperation in the Arctic. That tradition must be preserved and expanded, even as nations in the region push forward with territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Countries should work together, perhaps through the Arctic Council, to ensure that researchers from all nations are allowed access to all parts of the Arctic Ocean.

At the same time, scientists should make their data available in public databases as soon as possible after collection. The far north is changing faster than anywhere else on Earth, with potentially vast impacts on climate as carbon-rich permafrost melts, and dark ground and water exposed by the retreating ice soak up more heat from the Sun. It is crucial that science keeps up.

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Special issue on the Arctic: After the ice. Nature 478, 171 (2011).

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