An iceberg amid the stark beauty of the Hekla Havn cove off the east coast of Greenland. Photograph by Yossi Katzourin, National Geographic Your Shot.

An iceberg amid the stark beauty of the Hekla Havn cove off the east coast of Greenland. Photograph by Yossi Katzourin, National Geographic Your Shot.

It’s in the wild places that we do our best thinking. So when I was stepped up to podium to moderate a forum on the Arctic for the National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative, it felt only right to open the session by apologizing for us all being inside. (See related video: Paul Rose and others live at The Arctic: The Science of Change event.)

Our topic was The Arctic: The Science of Change. We were in the wonderful Royal Society building in London, and could feel that we were indeed following 350 years of scientific discovery, so the venue could not have been better—unless, that is, we could have been standing on the Arctic sea ice. I can see us now: Goggles up, in respect of making eye contact, but squinting in the sun. Our gloves would be off, so that we could shake hands. We’d be moving around a lot, to keep warm. And everyone would take turns with the gun and flares on polar bear watch. (Vote and comment: What do we urgently need to know as Arctic development ramps up?)

Surely, that must be the best way of discussing Arctic challenges?

The Arctic: The Science of Change
Learn more about the issues surrounding a changing region.

The stakes are high, and therefore, the opportunities couldn’t be any better: We can’t stop the Arctic changing and we can easily imagine the cultural, environmental, and commercial risks of getting things wrong. This is our chance to make high standard, sensible, sustainable adaptations to climate change. (See interactive map: The Changing Arctic.)

If the Arctic becomes a geopolitical and commercial battleground, it will have a negative impact on all of our lives. However, if we embrace and put into action a vision of the “Top of the World” as a pristine region that is a benchmark for cultural appreciation, environmental understanding, and protection, as well as rational development and a showcase for adaptation to anthropogenic climate change, then this will have a positive effect on society. Even for those who never get there – they will hear about us shuffling around on the ice in our freezing discussions and know that the Arctic is in good hands. No pressure!

Our evening forum on the Arctic went by too fast and many of us wanted more time in the discussion groups. Maybe it was a bit too comfortable. If we had been on the ice in a whiteout, on a windswept beach or were being tossed around at sea we would have more appreciated the concise timetable. So I invite you to continue your discussions here at the online forum and I’m greatly looking forward to your thoughts, guidance and comments.

Paul Rose is vice president of the Royal Geographical Society, and chair of its Expeditions and Fieldwork Division. He was co-leader of National Geographic’s 2013 Pristine Seas Expedition to the remote Russian archipelago of Franz Josef Land.

Paul Rose, co-leader of National Geographic's  Arctic Pristine Seas Expedition, engaged in some higher thinking in Franz Josef Land. Photo by Andy Mann.

Paul Rose, co-leader of National Geographic’s Arctic Pristine Seas Expedition, engaged in some higher thinking in Franz Josef Land. Photo by Andy Mann.


  1. ronald little
    January 18, 2014, 10:05 pm

    I appreciate what was given unto use. bye our creator . its our job to take care off it .for future . thanks keep up the good work

  2. mares
    January 9, 2014, 8:15 am

    How about if we national geographic people start doing something for real go there assess the problems make expeditions i think it;s a lot of talk in the world right now and no one lifts a finger, when the ice started to melt they said uh ha oil and ship routes…so we all know we all speak it needs a revolution instead… i want to go to the arctic circle in an expedition reasearch who else wants this?National Geographic can you take us there?

  3. Debbie Rupert
    December 19, 2013, 10:36 pm

    Just reading your article moves me deeply. Our environment is at such a tipping point and we do need to protect the resources that are left that actually support humanity’s ability to live on this planet. My son lives in Alaska, so we visit quite often. The beauty is breath taking there. Let’s keep it pristine while it’s in our hands.
    Great waves of Change , a wonderful book talking about what’s happening in the world at this critical time for humanity. Most importantly it tells how we can prepare for the changes and protect what’s left. It is a free download

  4. Isabel Lord
    December 16, 2013, 2:13 am

    A beautiful description of the Artic! Truly moving.
    It’s a relief to know that while it’s transitioning through irreversible change, scientists such as yourself and those at Shell are working together to ensure that the needs of “environmental understanding” and “rational development” are equally meet.
    Props to you for being able to understand what is being destroyed by companies such as the socially conscious Shell.

  5. Weller Wang
    December 4, 2013, 11:50 am

    The Arctic, a clean place, needs to be protected by us. The environmental changes in Arctic have crucial effects on human.

  6. Christa Pollett
    Phoenix, AZ
    November 28, 2013, 11:08 am

    I would love to see it for myself 🙂

  7. Kenneth Martin
    Ugnu-Kuparuk Alaska
    October 22, 2013, 2:32 am

    The Arctic is a wonderful place to live and work. Where I am doesn’t have the beautiful mountains and icebergs of your pictures, but I appreciate the open space and small population. Let’s do our best to keep it clean, but not be unreasonable about using the resources wisely.

  8. Ken Albertsen
    October 18, 2013, 12:08 am

    If the Chinese can figure a way to build cities there, they will.