The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. In the southern high latitudes, pronounced warming hitherto has been observed only in West Antarctica, but sea-ice decline will ultimately come also to the Antarctic. For the late northern summer, when the Arctic sea ice extent shrinks to its minimum every year, climate projections indicate that the Arctic Ocean will be largely ice-free by the mid-21st century, with important implications for the near-future development of human activities in the High North.
The increased accessibility of the Arctic comes with both opportunity and risk. The volume of marine transport through the Arctic could increase rapidly in the coming decades, given the ∼50% shorter shipping distance between Northern Europe and important Asian ports like Shanghai and Yokohama compared to the route through the Suez Canal. Other economic branches with a keen interest in a more accessible Arctic include fisheries, tourism, and resource extraction. Tourism is becoming more and more popular also in the Antarctic, with ∼5 times more visitors today compared to 20 years ago.
Increased human activity in polar regions implies more exposure to harsh environmental conditions brought about by quickly developing Polar storms, sudden onset of fog or blowing snow, or unforeseen sea-ice changes. To enable a sustainable development, reliable predictions of the Polar environment, including sea ice in particular, are indispensable, especially in order to reduce risk of human and environmental disaster and to enable efficient emergency response. Yet our current skill to predict the evolution of sea ice are very limited.