Arctic ice and why you should care about it.

As you know the Arctic sea ice is melting at an alarming rate, it is thought to be loosing over 12% every decade and this is expected to increase over the next few years if nothing is done to help tackle climate change.

The NSIDC (National snow and ice data centre) satellites show that there has been a dramatic decline of roughly 770,000 square miles of sea ice since 1981.  Many scientists believe that the melting of polar ice is heavily resulting from climate change enhanced by anthropogenic activities especially (resulting from the influence of human beings on nature). Such activities may include the dramatic increase of greenhouse gas emissions by burning fossil fuels, mass farming, and deforestation, predominantly within the last century.

Glacier Cruise East Greenland
Greenland Glacier

The Arctic sea ice influences the Earth globally-not just regionally. It plays a huge role in regulating the Earth’s temperature, influencing ocean currents, supporting native people as well as wildlife, it helps to limit severe weather across the globe and it is also significant in homing an abundant amount of species-including some endemic species too, ranging from microscopic organisms to much larger organisms like arctic whales.

 

Arctic sea ice reflects incoming solar rays back into space, having an albedo level typically ranging between 0.5-0.7. This is relatively high compared to the average ocean albedo of 0.06. The increase of Arctic ice loss means that there will be a decline in the percentage of the incoming solar rays being reflected back into space and an increase being absorbed into the ocean creating a vicious cycle of rising temperatures and a greater amount of ice melting. The amplified amount of solar radiation being absorbed into the ocean could create a number of negative influences to our oceans also including impacts to aquatic life. Harmful rays can also penetrate deep into the water column and can harm many different ecosystems stabilities leading to further issues.

Phytoplankton Bloom in the Bering Sea
Phytoplankton Bloom in the Bering Sea

The sea ice is vitally important to polar ecosystems. The release of nutrients from the usual melting summer sea ice plays a fundamental role in stimulating the growth of phytoplankton (the key opponent of the marine food chain). If there was a decline in phytoplankton levels the whole food chain would be affected and in danger. The natural freezing of the water during the winter time means that the more dense water with a higher salinity sinks/mixes through the water column bringing nutrient-rich water up to the surface creating a biological cycle. The natural freezing and melting times have been slightly altered because of climate change which has led to an array of problems both biologically and chemically.

The melting of the ice has led to a lack of resources not just for animals but for native people too. Fragile inland and ocean ecosystems are being exposed to shipping and strong destructive ocean waves putting not only the environment at risk but also biodiversity too. Ice dependant species such as seals and polar bears especially are critically affected by the melting of the ice. They face a loss of habitat, ecological collapse and starvation due to a reduction in the primary sources of food and a solid habitat. Polar bears rely on a heavily dependent high-calorie diet and a decrease in calories could lead to major problems. There is thought to have been a 10% decline in polar bears from 2001-2010, if we do not act soon then this number will increase and polar bears may face extinction.

Endangered Arctic starving Polar Bear
Endangered Arctic Polar Bear dying from starvation.

Another issue caused by the decline of sea ice is that endemic arctic whales face a threat resulting from an increased number of invasive species such as orca that have been extending their travels further northwards, this has led to issues regarding competition for food, habitat, and survival.

The most obvious result of polar ice melting is, of course, sea level rise. In recent years satellites have told us that globally our oceans have risen by about 4-8 inches. One factor contributing to sea level rise is the fact that globally the oceans are becoming warmer, this leads to thermal expansion of water meaning that water simply takes up more space. Our oceans have been rising for many years now and it is proving to be a large problem already, especially countries such as St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, over a quarter of its total land has been lost since 1961 and its land mass is still dramatically declining to this day. Low-lying land and islands, particularly around the Pacific, are especially at risk from disappearing entirely.

As you can see the Arctic ice is highly important globally as well as regionally and the continual decline in sea ice will cause issues that may not be reversible. This is the wakeup call that should encourage people to act now to save our planet. This is our problem and we need to do whatever we can. We are the generation that needs to fix this, and we all need to work together in order to make the plant a happy, healthy and beautiful place for future generations and wildlife to thrive.


By Kiera Long

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