The Melting Arctic

By Charlotte Ross-Harris

While you hear numerous snippets about the warming of the Arctic, it seems so far away and uninhabited, so is easy to forget. It wasn’t until NASA displayed some futuristic images of global atmospheric conditions that the problem became oh so real. The Arctic region is experiencing approximately double the amount of warming than the rest of the planet is. Obviously this leads to melting ice where whole ice sheets will fracture and dump a monster chunk of ice into the ocean, melting rapidly and causing the sea level to rise. Imagery comparing 1979 to 2012 shows that just half the ice in the Arctic now remains. These are large scale changes that are not only impacting upon the Arctic ecosystem, but are heavily influencing the climate of the world. This summer for the first time a large touristic cruise ship passed through the NW Passage (between northern Canada and the Arctic). This is a route that previously would have never been possible to pass but the tour company was so convinced the passage was safe that they attempted it without disruption. The record minimum for snow cover in the northern hemisphere last year ensures that more solar energy is absorbed by the earth instead of being reflected back to space. Therefore, the permafrost (permanently frozen ground) is melting. As well as the ecological impacts, this is causing the buckling of roads and buildings as the ground becomes soft, and the erosion of coastlines. Some coastlines are retreating at up to 20 meters per year in the Arctic. New research is showing too, that the warm temperatures in this region are causing a disruption to atmospheric circulation patterns which is directing more cold winds further south into the northern regions of America and Europe.

It is now understood that soils of the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions hold an extremely large portion of the sequestered carbon on earth. As the north heats and the permafrost melts, the stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere.

In reality we do not yet fully understand the repercussions of these events. Sorry for such a grim report, you can check out some really cool satellite images on NASA’s website.


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