What Happens When the Arctic Ice Shelf Melts Dramatically?
The process of climate change, observed in recent decades, is a set of natural interconnections and inter-dependencies. The crucial factor, temperature, leads to most modern natural disasters (reinforcement of Atlantic cyclones, for example) and slow and steady weather shifts.
According to weather forecasters, the Earth’s temperature might rise 1,1-6,4°C in the 21st century, so both scientists as well as the global society should be aware of the contemporary state of the planet, and the possible consequences.
One of the already confirmed observations is the Arctic Meltdown: this area reacts to global heat, experiencing a reduction of ice spaces, resulting in the rising of the world’s ocean levels.
Researching Earth’s Past Climates for Information
This trend has also been noted by American geologists, who conducted a research of data on the past climates of the Earth. The result was surprising. If Earth’s temperature rises by several degrees, then Arctic areas respond 3-4 times more than the rest of the planet. If Earth’s temperature drops, the Arctic areas cool 3-4 times more as well.
Because of information like this, the Arctic meltdown has become a common issue within the climate change conversation, a regular component of the planet’s evolution just as it was 5 million years ago. Gifford Miller, Fellow and Associate Director of INSTAAR and Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has offered a very simple explanation: when ice and snow melt, sunlight reaches the ground more easily and the speed of melting increases.
Another fact that corresponds to the Arctic meltdown is a reduction of ice thickness. In the 1990s, there was a statement that Arctic ice would exist for at least another 50-100 years, but to date, there is no certainty that they will be around even in 10 years.
The thickness of the Arctic ice has declined from more than 5 meters in the 1990s, down to 2 meters at the beginning of the 21st century. The total area of the thickest ice has also decreased from 28 to 6%.
Erik Solheim, Minister of the Environment and International Development in Norway, points out another negative impact of the Arctic meltdown: its impact on the habitat of polar bears, seals, walruses, and birds. With this wildlife, another unsavory consequence is underlined: the reduction of sunlight reflectivity from the Earth’s surface leads to more heating of oceanic waters.
An important consequence of arctic melting relates directly to rising sea levels. UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) recorded that during the last 15 years, sea levels lifted 3 mm per year. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has announced an optimistic and a pessimistic forecast on sea levels, for the end of the century – 37 and 59 cm respectively.
Specifically, the rising sea levels at just around 1 meter puts 145 million people in danger of flooding and coastal destruction. In this case, both countries and big cities might experience a dramatic and catastrophic time. Low lands and island nations from Japan to Holland to New York, as well as St. Petersburg and Bangladesh would all be affected.
Secondly, the Arctic meltdown might also affect the melting of soil, which may lead to a release of old greenhouse gases. The estimates note that 70 billion tons of organic carbon is preserved under the Arctic ice, which is 10 times bigger than the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere because of human activity.
Thirdly, already mentioned, the areas of animal habitat might be significantly lessened. Permafrost territories are a home for many polar species, which might find themselves on the verge of extinction.
On the plus side, and this is a stretch, the Arctic melting might result in greater trade between neighboring countries, as open sea connections might facilitate better relations. And second, in the way of potential positive sides to the story, the Arctic shelf has been found to be a source of many useful deposits. For example, Alaska is a point of concentration of such rock products as gas, oil, copper, and nickel, all of which could be located underneath the ice, becoming available as it melts.
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[Photo Via: studentsonice]