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Why our polar regions are so important

The Arctic and Antarctic are two of the Earth’s most special places.

First of all, these incredible landscapes store vast amounts of our planet’s fresh water as ice. Unfortunately in the Arctic and parts of the Antarctic, it’s melting at an alarming rate and we’ve already seen a lot of Antarctic glaciers retreating in the last 50 years. On the west side of the Antarctic peninsula, almost 90% of glaciers are retreating and the main cause is warming ocean temperatures.

Meanwhile up at the Arctic, floating sea ice has been decreasing dramatically – it’s likely there will be virtually no sea ice there in summer months within a generation.

Our frozen poles also play a vital role in regulating the world’s climate. The white ice reflects some of the sun’s rays back into space, helping to keep the Earth at an even temperature. Sea Ice also helps to regulate the movements of warm and cold water around the oceans.

Melting ice means even more heat is absorbed by the ocean – which causes even faster melting, and could shift ocean currents.

Some of the planet’s most iconic animals live in these landscapes, including polar bears in the Arctic and penguins in the Antarctic. The Arctic is also home to over four million people – though no one lives permanently in the Antarctic.

Rod Downie

"Immersing yourself in the vastness of the polar landscapes is an intensely personal and humbling experience. These are the harshest, yet most insanely beautiful places on Earth. One cannot fail to be concerned by the rapid change that we're seeing as a result of climate warming - and that's why I've dedicated the last two decades of my life to the conservation of the polar regions."

Rod Downie
Polar programme manager