Polar ice caps are dome-shaped sheets of ice found near the North and South Poles. They form because high-latitude polar regions receive less heat from the Sun than other areas on Earth. As a result, average temperatures at the poles can be very cold.

The polar ice caps contain the majority of Earth's supply of freshwater. In fact, scientists estimate that 70 percent of Earth's freshwater supply remains in an ice sheet at the South Pole.

Unfortunately, average temperatures at the poles have begun to rise in recent years due to changes in the environment. As temperatures rise, the polar ice caps start to melt and break apart. NASA satellite photographs show that the polar ice caps are shrinking 9 percent every 10 years.

The changing environment at the poles affects native people, animals, and plants. Animals such as seals, polar bears, and whales may be forced to change their natural migration patterns. People who live in coastal villages may have to abandon their homes as sea levels rise.

The effects of the melting polar ice caps may one day be felt well beyond the poles, though. As the polar ice caps shrink, sea levels begin to rise, creating serious problems for coastal areas around the globe.

Fortunately, we can do our part to slow down and prevent the environmental changes causing the polar ice caps to melt. Scientists blame the use of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and gasoline, for the production of gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to higher average temperatures. Scientists call this phenomenon “global warming."

What can you do to prevent global warming? Conserve energy! Some communities have begun to use renewable resources, such as solar energy (from the Sun) and wind power. Doing your part, though, can be as simple as turning off a light switch when you leave a room!

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