The Arctic is a unique region that experiences extremes in climate, habitat, natural resources, and human adaptation to the environment. Numerous observations indicate that the Arctic is changing at an unprecedented rate. The most visible change is the loss, since the 1970s, of 10% of the sea ice cover, or an area about the size of the state of Texas. The Antarctic has also exhibited recent changes, including the dramatic collapse of several floating ice shelves and the warming trend over the Antarctic Peninsula. Although the loss of ice mass over regions of Greenland and Antarctica is contributing to the global sea level rise, the melting of alpine glaciers has made the largest contribution.

Climate models show that the loss of Arctic sea ice has most likely been produced by warming from increasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases; these changes are likely to continue. Natural cycles of wind and ocean circulation and solar energy also affect the climate, but human-produced changes have become distinctly more significant in the last 20 years.

While the canary in the coal mine that is the early warning for the Earth's climate has become rather ill, it has not yet expired. However, based on climate model predictions, this canary will not likely recover to its previous size or condition if the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are not stabilized.

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