BIG STORY – On Thin Ice

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The people of the Arctic are among the first on Earth to experience the direct impacts of global warming, and it was their compelling stories that prompted CGTN to produce a new documentary about the repercussions of climate change on the people, land, and wildlife of the Arctic.

Reporter Sean Callebs and photographer Andrew Smith spent three months in the Arctic, documenting the changes in the region for the original documentary: “On Thin Ice: The People of the North”. Watch the full show here:

Permafrost is becoming more and more critical to greenhouse gases filtering into the atmosphere. CGTN went to the permafrost research tunnel in Fairbanks, Alaska to learn more. In simple terms, as the Arctic and near-Arctic areas warm, permafrost starts to thaw. That’s bad news for a number of reasons.

For one, sinkholes are popping up all over Alaska, and throughout the Arctic globally, as ice-wedges beneath the surface melt. So, homes, businesses, roads, and pipelines are in danger of being swallowed as the permafrost surrenders to a warmer climate and the ground can no longer support the same weight.

Permafrost is important to people of the north. Heavy construction needs to be done in the winter when the ground is frozen solid. Indigenous populations have dug into the permafrost to create natural refrigeration to store whale, walrus, and other subsistence kills. Researchers are worried that permafrost in the Arctic, long thought invulnerable to climate change, could thaw completely in the next 100 years.

The documentary observes how ships are navigating the Northwest Passage, a new sea route known as “Panama Canal North” that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic and was made possible through climate change, and how this could impact the people and wildlife that live there.

Callebs and Smith also document the struggles that native communities face as they sit on the nexus of tradition and change. In visits to cities, towns, and villages in Alaska and Canada, they interviewed residents who can no longer practice traditional hunting due to the rapid rate of sea ice melts and thinning ice.