Monday, July 23, 2012

The Consequences of a Melting Arctic

One indicator that climate change will impact not just future generations, but people living today, is the Arctic’s stunning pace of ice melt. Scientists are now predicting that the vast polar region at the top of the world could be ice-free during the summer as early as 2030.

Such a change has many consequences.

Increased Human Activity: With shipping routes unencumbered by ice, human activity will increase in the region. Despite the concerns of many environmental groups, Shell has sent deepwater drilling exploration vessels to the Arctic in anticipation of establishing oil and gas operations there. This resource rush also has security implications as countries bordering the region have increased their military presence there.

Wildlife: According to the National Wildlife Federation, the Arctic is home to a complex and productive ecosystem that depends on summer ice cover. Arctic foxes, caribou, whales and the iconic (and endangered) polar bear are all under threat from the region’s accelerated pace of warming and increased human activity. The native populations that depend on these ecosystems to preserve traditional ways of life are already being impacted.

Accelerated Global Warming Impacts: In 2007, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) anticipated that Arctic summer ice would disappear by 2100 if greenhouse gas levels remained unchecked, but subsequent years of observation have shown that ice is melting more rapidly that anyone projected. This kind of miscalculation shows how unpredictable climate change can be. Some of the expected impacts of Arctic ice loss include colder and more extreme Northern Hemisphere winters, and accelerated global warming from the release of methane and the loss of reflective surfaces.

Similar warming trends are being observed in the South Pole as well where warm ocean currents are breaking large ice shelves apart. This sea ice loss on both poles ensures that the planet will see steadily rising sea levels.
The best way to reign in the dramatic changes happening in the Arctic is to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming. Many EarthShare member organizations are working on just that while also communicating the reasons why the Arctic is such an important barometer for the future of our planet.

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