Melting Arctic ice
February 8, 2021
Atmospheric and oceanic warming are cause for alarm everywhere, but one region is impacted more than others. Warming two times faster than anywhere else, the Arctic and its delicate ecosystem as we know it are at risk of disappearing.
The effect climate change has on the Arctic is disastrous. Due to an increase of human-caused greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, the world’s atmosphere and ocean are warming faster than they would naturally. Because of this rise in temperature, the Arctic loses more and more ice every year. A cyclical pattern of ice melting during the summer and freezing during the winter is expected, however, large amounts of ice are not refreezing. According to climate.gov, the total area covered by Arctic ice in the summer has decreased by 12% per decade since 1979. Even if the ice survives year-round, it becomes thinner and weaker, making it more susceptible to melting in the coming year(s). This disappearance of vital ice creates dire consequences.
The loss of ice is not only due to climate change, but it also contributes to it. The white color of the ice caps reflect heat back into space, and it helps to combat the rising temperatures. However, because more and more ice is not refreezing, there is less heat being reflected back and instead is trapped by the dark blue ocean. In addition, ice and permafrost hold large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas. When the higher temperatures melt the two, they release that stored methane into the atmosphere, subsequently contributing to the warming of Earth. Less ice means an increased rate of warming.
Disappearing Arctic ice also means habitat loss for many animal species. Polar bears, walruses, arctic foxes, reindeer, and more animal species depend on the ice for shelter and access to food. When one species is affected in an ecosystem, it causes a ripple effect, affecting the lives of other animals and forcing them to adapt or perish. As their habitat disappears, the animals also are forced to occupy a smaller area, increasing the chances of conflict between people and wildlife. If the balance of the delicate Arctic ecosystem is disrupted, the world could lose some of its most unique creatures and communities that depend on them.
The drastic changes in the Arctic are not just limited to that region. As ice and glaciers melt, the oceans rise, affecting coastal and island communities everywhere. The sea level has risen about 7-8 inches since 1900, according to worldwildlife.org. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) also predicts the levels could increase by 20 feet if the Greenland ice sheet melts entirely. This rise in ocean levels causes more flooding and storms even more dangerous than current weather events, putting the lives of those who live on the coast at risk. Not to mention some people may have to move or abandon their homes in the future due to the rising sea levels, and coastal property values will decrease. A study done by First Street Foundation says, “Climate change concerns have caused nearly $16 billion in lost appreciation of property values along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast since 2005.” Not only will the homes people live in change, but it will affect agriculture as well. Ice loss contributes to unpredictable weather, polar vertexes, and increased heat waves, “causing significant damage to crops on which global food systems depend,” according to the WWF. It will lead to an increase of food prices, and vulnerable communities will be most affected. Melting ice has multiple negative effects in regions outside of the Arctic.
Conservation of the Arctic is so important. From an increase of global warming, to a raise in prices of food, the loss of Arctic ice affects the entire world and must be preserved to maintain its own ecosystem, as well as the well-being of the entire planet. Measures must be taken to protect this planet we call home.