Into the lands of ice and snow
Alaskan photographer Acacia Johnson has been on over 50 polar expeditions. Here, she shares some impressions from visiting the Inuit in Canada, the wildlife in Svalbard and Antarctica, the "White Continent."
The earth's northernmost region
The Arctic is the northernmost region of planet Earth. It's cold, it's remote, but it isn't deserted. It's home to eight diverse countries with four million inhabitants. Living in different indigenous cultures, they're united by extreme climate, polar latitudes, and, most recently, the decline of sea ice caused by global warming.
A source of life
The Inuit have lived in Alaska, Greenland and northern Canada for thousands of years. Their homeland is called Inuit Nunangat which refers to the land, water and ice of the Arctic. To them, the region is an abundant source of life, food and culture. Photographer Acacia Johnson has lived for six months with the Inuit of Baffin Island in Canada, the country where the majority of Inuit live.
The profound impact of climate change
Canada's Inuit use sea ice as a platform for fishing and hunting trips and to travel between regions that would otherwise be challenging to reach. The Arctic region is dominated by sea ice. Climate change has a profound impact, not just on animals and the environment, but on the Inuits' indigenous culture and the wellbeing of all Nunavummiut, the people living in the territory of Nunavut.
Ice-free summers by the 2040s
As the ocean and atmosphere warm up, sea ice — the foundation to all life in the Arctic — is shrinking. According to several scientists' predictions, the Arctic could be ice free during summer by the 2040s. Practically, global warming means that some travel routes become unreachable and so do traditional camp sites.
On to Svalbard, a group of Norwegian islands between Norway and the North Pole. It never had an indigenous human population, so it's a rich haven for Arctic wildlife — especially the polar bear, also known as the "King of the Arctic." Polar bears are marine mammals, meaning they depend heavily on an ecosystem formed by stable sea ice.
Irregular sea ice patterns
The ice for them is a platform to hunt ringed seals, their main food source and the most common seal species around Svalbard. Although the region is currently home to many well-protected polar bears, the effects of global warming are becoming increasingly visible. Especially in summer, sea ice patterns are growing irregular.
The 'White Continent'
Antarctica is also called the "White Continent." With no history of human habitation, it's considered one of the last great wildernesses of the earth. Despite its cold climate, the richness of the Antarctic marine ecosystem makes it home to an extraordinary abundance of wildlife, such as penguins, seals, and whales.
The animals' entire food chain is dependent on Antarctic krill which in turn are dependent on the phytoplankton that flourishes in cold temperatures with lots of sea ice. As the climate warms, the krill decrease, posing a potential threat to the Antarctic wildlife. The polar region around the South Pole remains a pristine, yet fragile wilderness.
Alaskan photographer Acacia Johnson has been on over 50 polar expeditions. To her, the Arctic in particular is extraordinarily vast and diverse: "The Arctic itself is defined by constant change, by the dramatic contrasts between summer and winter, abundance and dormancy, light and darkness." Nonetheless, she says the future of the polar regions is a global issue that needs to be tackled now.