Green Berets walking in the dark toward the lights of a Long Range Radar station

Scenes from the new Cold War unfolding at the top of the world

Militaries are scrambling to control the melting Arctic.

U.S. Marines and Green Berets patrol the tundra near a radar station outside Barrow, Alaska, during a training exercise. The troops were participating in an annual U.S. military operation called “Arctic Edge.”

Photography for this article was supported by grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Pulitzer Center.

For most of human history the very top of the globe has remained out of play, too cold, too distant, and too dangerous for the kinds of intense exploitation that have reshaped other regions. But the Arctic is now warming faster than any place on earth, and its protective barrier of sea ice—which once kept commercial and military ambition in check—is melting away.

Today, the Arctic is routinely described as an emerging frontier, and many polar nations, along with a few that have no Arctic borders, are angling for access to the region’s rich stores of fish, gas, oil, and other mineral resources. By most measures, the U.S. has lagged far behind other countries in this race, including Russia, Norway, and

DON'T MISS THE REST OF THIS STORY!
Create a free account to continue and get unlimited access to hundreds of Nat Geo articles, plus newsletters.

Create your free account to continue reading

No credit card required. Unlimited access to free content.
Or get a Premium Subscription to access the best of Nat Geo - just $19
SUBSCRIBE

Read This Next

Is banning fishing bad for fishermen? Not in this marine reserve
SeaWorld violated the Animal Welfare Act. Why is it still open?
'World’s worst shipwreck' was bloodier than we thought

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet