Sept. 17, 2012
French photographer Samuel Blanc has been leading tours to Svalbard, Norway's archipelago in the Arctic, since 2007. This year the reduced sea ice extent allowed his expedition aboard the 12-passenger Polaris to circumnavigate the northern islands in early July rather than mid-August. Climate change is having a direct impact on the unique ecosystem isolated on these islands more than 400 miles north of Europe. In the following photos, Blanc gives us a tour of life on the archipelago's largest island, Spitsbergen. You can see more of his work at www.sblanc.com.
In west Spitsbergen, Little Auks, such as those pictured here, and other birds aren't safe on the cliffs. Hungry polar bears have learned to climb the steep gradients in search of food.
Polar Bears and Bleeding Glaciers
The dissolved iron seen in this glacier may help fight climate change. As the iron washes into the northern seas, it can help fertilize phytoplankton blooms that draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
As global warming melts permafrost in the arctic, more carbon is released into the atmosphere. Meanwhile areas of tundra are also seeing a rise in fires.
The vast stretch of open water due to thinning of the Arctic sea ice is forcing walruses to often crowd together on beaches.
This bearded seal has found a safe spot away from polar bears and sharks. Many seals however also snooze in the water, where they are at risk of becoming of meal for the Greenland shark, the world's slowest shark.
Only three percent of the total population of arctic fox are called "Blue fox" and unlike the rest of the population, these blue critters don't turn white in the winter.
These foxes are showing their summer colors.
An Ecuadoran freighter ran aground in the Galapagos islands, but "for the moment" does not pose a threat to the Pacific archipelago's unique environment, the Galapagos National Park said.
The vessel, which ran aground off the island of San Cristobal, is carrying 16,000 gallons (more than 60,000 liters) of fuel oil.
But an inspection "confirmed that the part of the vessel that is on the rocks is distant from the fuel tanks," the park said.
"So for the moment it does not represent an environmental risk," it added.
Authorities, however, were drawing up contingency plans in case of a spill, it said.
The ship's cargo also is being offloaded to make it lighter in hopes that a high tide will lift it off the rocks.
The Ecuadoran-owned island chain, which is located 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from the mainland, is famous for unique flora and fauna studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle as he developed his theory of evolution.