Study Notes

GCSE Geography | Why do Cold Environments Need Protecting? (Cold Environments 8)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 19 Jul 2023

Cold environments such as Antarctica and the parts of the Arctic Circle are remote and unspoilt, and the last remaining areas of wilderness. Despite their extreme climate and inaccessibility there are increasingly ay risk from economic development.

Why do polar and tundra regions need protecting?

Wilderness areas need protecting for many reasons. We need to leave some places in their natural state to such that biodiversity is maintained, and that individual species are not at risk of extinction. Additionally, scientists need to be able to access undisturbed environments to carry out important research.

Wilderness areas also provide vital services for the rest of the world - for example the poles are covered in white snow and ice which reflects sunlight so helps to regulate global temperatures. Unfortunately, climate change has led to melting at the poles, meaning there is less snow and ice to do this important function. The permafrost (frozen ground) traps a huge amount of methane in - when permafrost melts this methane is released into the atmosphere, which contributes to the greenhouse effect, causing global warming.

Cold environments are extremely sensitive to change and take a long time to recover from environmental damage. This is because plants grow so slowly in the freezing temperatures. A good example is the tracks left by offroad vehicles take up to 50 years to disappear completely.

Traditional culture at risk

Wilderness areas often have traditional communities - these people are at risk of economic development threatening their way of life. Outside influences have a big impact on cultural heritage, for example many native languages are dying out as English is being increasingly spoken, and native tribes are choosing English names for their children.

Protecting traditional cultures often comes into conflict with conservation efforts, for example Alaskan Inupiat communities are allowed to hunt and kill bowhead whales, a right that is protected by US law. Alaskan Inuit people often gain money through becoming guides for wealthy tourists who wish to hunt polar bears, however polar bears were declared an endangered species by the 2008 Supreme Court, giving them protected status, so cannot legally be hunted.

How are wilderness areas in polar and tundra regions protected?

Antarctica has only really been explored since the start of the 20th century, although large-scale seal and whale hunting in the Southern Ocean has taken place for over 200 years.

People were in awe of the spectacular images of glaciers and polar wildlife bought back by Antarctic explorers, such as Shackleton, in the late 1910s. In the following decades more and more countries tried to lay claim to part of the continent, with many of them looking at ways to commercially exploit its natural resources. As a result the countries with a territorial claim to Antarctica signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, which was ratified in 1961, and has successfully controlled economic development. The treaty recognises the vital role that Antarctica plays in scientific research, particularly with vital studies into climate change. It also controls the level of tourism taking place, ensuring that the industry follows strict guidelines so there is minimal disturbance to wildlife.

In 1998 The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty reinforced the agreement further - ensuring that no new activities can take place without a careful environmental assessment that minimises any impacts, and economic activities such as tourism have to follow very strict guidelines. Despite this tourism has grown rapidly, with almost 50,000 people visiting annually. Most of these tourists are just viewing the landscape from icebreaking boats, however some tourists venture onto the land to photograph wildlife or take part in organised treks. Tourists pay between $10,000 and $50,000 for their experience of Antarctica - and luckily these prices ensure than mass tourism will never be an issue here!

Why do Cold Environments Need Protecting? | AQA GCSE Geography | Cold Environments 8

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