Why you should be worried about the Arctic ice sheets
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Why you should be worried about the Arctic ice sheets

A PATCH of ice in the Arctic, once thought to be the “last ice area” on the planet to withstand a warming world, has started to break up for the first time in recorded history.

It is the oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic region and would usually stay frozen throughout the summer months. But this year is different. This year is hot. And the effects of warm winds and a climate change-driven heatwave are proving devastating and, as the scientists put it, pretty damn “scary.”

While it’s not quite as sensational and headline-grabbing as Trump’s extra-marital affairs or how crazy and rich Asians are, this really should be one of the biggest stories in the world as it stands to affect all of us in the long run.

It is the latest warning sign that we’re heading down the road of no return. Here’s why you should be worried about the Arctic ice sheets:

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Rising sea levels

Scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, Thomas Lavergne, who described the occurrence as “scary,” said on Twitter water penetrating the ice and exposing hundreds of miles of the Greenland coastline would flush chunks of thicker ice out through the Fram or Nares Straits into warmer southern waters.

“I cannot tell how long this open water patch will remain open, but even if it closes in few days from now, the harm will be done: the thick old sea ice will have been pushed away from the coast, to an area where it will melt more easily,” he said.

While the melting of sea ice has little effect on rising levels, the land ice on Greenland which is being affected by encroaching waters, will have a significant impact.

Greenland’s ice is hugely important for the planet. The sheet of ice that covers 1.7 million square kilometres is more than a three kilometres thick and has a volume of 2.8 million cubic kilometres. If it all melts, it would raise global sea levels by more than 7.5 metres.

When sea levels rise rapidly, as they have been doing, even a small increase can have devastating effects on coastal habitats.

As seawater reaches farther inland, it can cause destructive erosion, wetland flooding, aquifer and agricultural soil contamination, and lost habitat for fish, birds, and plants.

It would also force millions of people out of their homes as coastal regions become increasingly vulnerable to flooding and low-lying islands could be submerged completely.

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Polar bears would lose their habitat and be wiped out if the Arctic becomes ice-free. Source: FloridaStock/Shutterstock

Freaky extreme weather

The accelerated Arctic ice melt leads to seasonal ice cover which is not white, meaning it absorbs rather than reflects more sunlight. This, in turn, causes even more warming which has resulted in the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the northern hemisphere, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Scientists have found the smaller gap in temperatures between the Arctic and the equator causes the west-to-east Jetstream to slow down, meaning storms stall and intensify rather than move on as they used to do.

This results in more extreme weather patterns where we can expect to see heat waves, droughts, cold snaps and floods more often.

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The polar bears would be screwed

In the next 10 to 30 years, polar scientists predict we could be looking at an ice-free Arctic during the summer months.

Without anywhere to call home, the polar bears that reign supreme as the top predators up there will likely die out.

Author and scientist Alun Anderson said in his book After the Ice: Life, Death and Geopolitics in the New Arctic, that the Arctic will be mainly open ocean by 2050, and the “killer whale living in open water will be the symbol of the Arctic, replacing a bear on ice.”

Anderson also says that walruses would be “decimated,” considering how the “mother has the pups on the ice,” but they “won’t disappear completely.”

Russia can capitalise

Melting ice caps doesn’t only have environmental consequences, but geopolitical. New shipping routes would open up in the Arctic Ocean, something Russia is already positioning itself to dominate when they become reality.

It’s possible more fossil fuel reserves may also be exposed – feeding the ugly monster of climate change even further.