Climate change in the Arctic is not just a local problem – it’s a global problem. Climate change is faster and more severe in the Arctic than in most of the rest of the world. The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average.
The sea ice that is a critical component of Arctic marine ecosystems is projected to disappear in the summer within a generation.
The icebergs of the Antarctic have now started appearing with the size of Manhattan Island or the city of Chicago. A fleet of them could be very impressive, but consider the sea-level rise from them.
A small temperature shift can have enormous implications
Even an increase of 2°C could be too much. A slight shift in temperature, bringing averages above the freezing point, will completely alter the character of the region.
- As snow and ice melt, the ability of the Arctic to reflect heat back to space is reduced, accelerating the overall rate of global warming.
- Some Arctic fisheries will likely disappear.
- We are likely to see more forest fires and storm damage to coastal communities in the Arctic.
- Glaciers, sea ice and tundra will melt, contributing to global sea level rises.
- A warmer Arctic could halt the Gulf Stream, which brings warmer water and weather to north-western Europe.
As we drift towards severe warming of the planet, ice is drifting away. 300 billion tonnes is now estimated to be lost each year, with the increase every year even more worrying. Antarctica and Greenland are the main sources of glacier ice (99.5%), while the marine Arctic ice has almost given up on maintaining its relatively-thin surface layer. GRACE is the name of the pair of satellites involved in a useful survey of the earth’s gravitational field, meaning Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment. Surface water mass is calculated from these figures, allowing for several connections such as the elastic deformation of the earth itself!
The first decadal figures from 2002-2012 reveal a new measurement of the perplexing ice loss. Not enough data exists to analyse the loss properly in Greenland, so the sea-level rise that is estimated could be fairly low. While El Nino and La Nina and other oceanic changes explain some relatively-natural effect on the melt, it does seem as though human emissions of greenhouse gases will be responsible for the increase we now see every year. However, the paper does indicate that by 2100 we will have an extra 43cm of sea-level rise (above any linear trend or, in other words, without the acceleration) if the trend continues. And there is precious little effort so far that is having any effect on limiting the emissions’ damage.
Scientists only agree on the linear rise in sea level. Acceleration like this is due either to humans producing more global warming, or natural cycles that influence the extent of the ice. It would be wrong to compare this accurate forecasting approach with the complacency politicians had when first faced with the bitter truth of global warming.
We all know now that we are facing a problem we cannot solve. We simply must prevent it getting any worse.
Ice disappearance accelerates By Dave Armstrong –
Antarctic iceberg image; Credit: © Shutterstock