The arctic

The march of the larch: the Treeline is now encroaching on the arctic tundra

Covering 20 per cent of the Earth’s surface, the boreal forest is the largest living system, or ‘biome’, on land. It contains one third of all the planet’s trees and encircles much of the northern hemisphere in a halo of green. The northernmost extent of this forest, called the treeline, marks the point beyond which it is too cold for trees to grow. This is perhaps not where you’d expect to find Ben Rawlence, an author and journalist whose previous books have focused on humanitarian crises in Africa. But, as he explains in The Treeline, things are changing alarmingly fast in this biome: ‘The trees are on the move. They

Does William Barents deserve to have a sea named after him?

Narratives of frozen beards in polar hinterlands never lose their appeal. Most of the good stories have been told, but in Icebound Andrea Pitzer fills a gap, at least for the popular reader in English, with the story of the 16th-century Dutch mariner William Barents. He sailed further north than any man before him and lives still, on the map, with an eponymous sea off the northern coasts of Norway and Russia. In 1594, during the third decade of his country’s war with Spain, Barents voyaged to the unknown Nova Zembla (‘New Land’ in Dutch), planning to find a route to the fabled riches of Cathay. The notion of a

Cold war: Russia’s bid to control the Arctic

It may be time for Father Christmas to look for a new home, before the Russians kick him out. ‘This is our Arctic,’ declared the Russian explorer Artur Chilingarov when he went to the North Pole in 2003. Four years later, another Russian expedition, again led by Chilingarov, planted a titanium flag on the seabed 2.5 miles below the Pole. It was a symbolic gesture of a geopolitical ambition. The jingoistic Chilingarov proclaimed: ‘Our task is to remind the world that Russia is a great Arctic and scientific power.’ Since 2013, Russia has invested heavily in seven military/naval bases along its Arctic coast to strengthen the country’s power and influence.