Human activities over the past few centuries have profoundly changed the functioning of the earth system as a whole. These changes are particularly evident in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, where environmental change has been pronounced and rapid. Such changes have implications beyond the region, as they can lead to two important feedback processes: the ice-albedo feedback and the terrestrial carbon cycle-climate feedback. These processes play an exceptionally important role in earth system functioning, particularly because they may switch this century from damping the effects of anthropogenic climate change to accelerating them. Rapid environmental change in the high latitudes also has consequences for issues of direct importance to humans, particularly water resources.