SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — On the eve of meetings between Russia and NATO, the alliance’s top military commander expressed concern about potential security problems caused by melting Arctic ice sheets.

Adm. James G. Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander, said rising temperatures in coming years will open the region to natural resource exploration and could create a “zone of conflict,” according to the British newspaper, The Guardian.

Stavridis urged “global leaders to take stock, and unify their efforts to ensure the Arctic remains a zone of co-operation – rather than proceed down the icy slope towards a zone of competition, or worse a zone of conflict,” according to The Guardian report.

Russian and NATO leaders this week are taking part in an workshop titled, “Environmental Security in the Arctic Ocean,” at the University of Cambridge, England.

“The Arctic Ocean is being transformed from a permanent ice cap to a seasonally ice-free sea within the next few decades,” according to a NATO agenda announcing the meeting. “This is the largest environmental state-change on Earth and it brings potential economic, political and cultural instabilities as well as opportunities that have regional and global implications.”

The Arctic is largely comprised of sea ice sheets and includes territory of seven countries, including Canada, Norway, the United States and Russia.

As global temperatures rise, the ice sheets have been disappearing at a dramatic rate, making the Arctic one of the most obvious signs of climate change in the world. Ice cover in the summer has decreased on average by 25 percent in just the past decade, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which closely monitors the region.

The Navy has raised the alarm bell over the melting Arctic and global climate change over the past two years. In 2009, it released a report predicting the Arctic region’s summer sea ice could disappear within decades, opening up shipping lanes for the first time in history.

Such routes could be as important as the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca and become a prime responsibility for the Navy in the 21st century, Rear Adm. David Titley, commander of Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command said last year.

Meanwhile, the Navy released a second climate change plan in June saying coming changes in weather will rearrange terrain and sow instability around the world in the coming decades. The Navy plan lays out the groundwork to study the changes, predict challenges and create new training for sailors based on global climate shifts.

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