Wetlands are the main ecosystem in the Arctic. These peatlands, rivers, lakes, and shallow bays cover nearly 60% of the total surface area. They provide a wide range of services such as maintenance of permafrost, water regulation and filtration. Arctic wetlands store enormous amounts of greenhouse gases and are critical for global biodiversity. They are also the main source of livelihoods for local indigenous peoples.
The Arctic encompasses over one sixth of the Earth’s landmass and includes parts of Canada, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.
Global importance for biodiversity
Arctic wetlands offer unique habitats to both plants and animals, such as sea ice, tundra, and permafrost peatlands. For many migratory species the Arctic provides indispensable breeding and feeding areas. Waterbirds that breed in the Arctic are found on all the major international flyways, linking the Arctic to countries throughout both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
Over four million people, including more than 30 different indigenous groups, live in the Arctic. Wetlands provide many services to these peoples and their livelihoods. People living in the Arctic depend on fish and waterfowl hunting, harvesting of plants and on pastures for grazing. Migratory birds that breed in the Arctic support livelihoods outside the region.
Vulnerability and climate change
Large parts of the Arctic are under threat from oil and gas exploration, mining and the melting of permafrost due to climate change. Arctic wetlands are highly vulnerable to disturbance and slow to recover given their complex character.
Climate change is causing dramatic changes in the Arctic; it is among the fastest-warming parts of the planet and its wetlands are highly vulnerable. Arctic wetlands contain enormous stocks of organic carbon in their soils, and are dependent on frozen permafrost for their ability to store carbon. As temperatures rise and the permafrost thaws, huge amounts of greenhouse gases may be released into the atmosphere.