Ever-melting ice might mean the end of the Arctic as we know it
Millie Betts examines the effects of climate change on the arctic.
Scientists warn of a potential “tipping point” from which there is no return if climate change is not combated.
The issue of melting Arctic ice continues at an alarming rate, a direct result of something we’ve now known about for years – global temperatures rising.
Warming meant that the end of July saw the destruction of Canada’s last whole ice shelf as 40% of the 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf collapsed. Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, the St Patrick’s Bay ice caps completely disappeared. It was only two weeks later that scientists then suggested that the Greenland Ice Sheet is now completely beyond repair as annual snowfall is below the necessary amount to replace that which was lost during summer when 234 glaciers were melted. In other words, the Arctic is now losing more ice than it gains.
More monitoring of the ice has also shown that the main mass of Arctic sea ice in Siberia still had not begun to freeze in October. This is a result of unusually prolonged warmth in northern Russia. This time, ocean temperatures increased to more than 5°c above average, resulting in a record amount of open sea in the Arctic. Already, Northern Siberia and the Canadian Arctic are warming three times faster than the rest of the world, and Arctic temperatures have increased by nearly 1°c in the last decade.
These current events and the research behind them are therefore conclusive in confirming that climate change needs to be reduced. Even if we do stop the production of all greenhouse emissions now, sea ice will continue melting for decades because of damage which has already been done. If we don’t act as soon as possible, there could be monumental impacts.
Continuing along the same path would lead temperatures in the north to increase by 4°c year-round by the middle of the century. In fact, a recent Nature Climate Change study predicted that summer sea ice, currently floating on the surface of the Arctic Ocean, could be completely gone by 2035, something which had previously been predicted to occur by 2050 at the earliest.
Continuing along the same path would lead temperatures in the north to increase by 4°c year-round by the middle of the century
Furthermore, permafrost is thawing 70 years sooner than predicted in the Canadian arctic as roads buckle and houses sink. The thawing of permafrost releases both carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, further increasing the pace of global warming. We have already seen the impact of this in the form of disastrous wildfires which destroy vegetation and harm animals. In fact, now the global population of reindeer and Caribou has declined by 56% in the last 20 years.
However, it is important to realise that this isn’t just an environmental issue, it will affect humanity too. The fires destroy people’s lives, including those of indigenous people who rely on these animals as they are vital for use in food, tools, and clothing.
Amongst the devastation, however, there have been some positives. Uranium, zinc, gold, iron, and rare earth elements are being unearthed, while mineral deposits, oil, and gas reserves are now more accessible by ship. Tourism has also boomed as people travel to see the spectacle. After all, this might be the last chance people get to see the beauty of the Arctic before it becomes a barren land.
However, these positives only lead to more negatives as access to these fossil fuels and travel will only produce more greenhouse gasses. The loss of the ice itself will also further contribute to warming as the ocean will continue to absorb heat from the sun considering there is less ice to reflect it back to space.
We must not be complacent. It may seem as if we have already reached this ‘tipping point’, and that we are past the point of return, yet scientists claim that it is not too late. Change must occur to reduce the warming of our planet.