Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2023

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Environmental Studies


John Van Buren


Images of polar ice caps melting and news of global sea levels rising have dominated the media’s coverage of climate change during the past three to four decades. Focusing on these broad-scale impacts without further context does not adequately explain the complexities of what is currently happening in the Arctic and SubArctic Regions. This paper examines why changes to natural cycles like sea ice melt and permafrost thaw are posing significant threats to both human and non-human life. Shifts from the natural pattern of warming and melting in the Arctic, caused by external, human-induced pressures, have thrown these cycles into patterns of positive feedback. The paper looks into how sea ice melt and permafrost thaw work as positive feedback loops that are adversely impacting northern Alaskan lands and people. Chapter One details the most up-to-date data on the state of global warming and quantitative analyses of sea ice melt, permafrost thaw, and their impacts on Alaskan communities, using past and projected trends. Chapter Two outlines the environmental history of the Alaskan Arctic and its inhabitants, including past and once-projected warming and cooling patterns. Chapter Three explains what the Arctic’s fate may mean for the rest of the world in terms of economic and other human losses. Chapter Four presents the political implications of Arctic warming as well as perspectives from current and emerging activists that aim to address the effects of warming in the Alaskan Arctic. Chapter Five offers my own thoughts on policy recommendations to address Arctic heatwaves and discusses how halting or reversing the spin of positive feedback loops in the Arctic could possibly be achieved.