Multi-year sea ice has covered the greater part of the Arctic Ocean for at least hundreds of thousands of years. This old sea ice could only be replaced after thousands of years of accumulation and pressure. Ice reflects sunlight while the darker water that is being uncovered absorbs it. As the ice melts, the melting process accelerates as the water absorbs more of the sun’s energy. Sea ice is diminishing so rapidly that even the most optimistic reports expect an ice free summer within decades. (It is important to understand that the first ice-free summer means the first winter with a layer of only new or yearling ice.)
No matter where your audience is from, you can find a way to connect them to the Arctic and its recent changes. The changing Arctic has impacts on a global scale. Ice melting from the Arctic Ocean and land glaciers on Greenland contributes to sea level rise. Considering about 10% of the world’s population lives within 30ft of sea level (including many cities), even a minor rise in water level could have large impacts (http://climate.nasa.gov/news/958). The changing temperature in the Arctic might also be affecting temperatures in sub-Arctic regions. What is known as the Warm Arctic – Cold Continent Pattern shows a frequent correlation between a warmer Arctic and increased winter weather patterns in areas such as northern Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America. (http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/future/warm_arctic_cold_continent.html).
In addition to global impacts, there are several local impacts. Locations for communities in Arctic Alaska might literally disappear as sea level rises, permafrost melts, and the lack of sea ice leads to greater coastal erosion. Many plants and animals might lose have the habitat they need to survive. Already living in an extreme environment, some species may have a lesser ability to adapt to change, especially at a rate comparable to the environmental changes currently in motion. This could decrease biodiversity, either through species extinction or population shifts. This possible change in species’ richness could be detrimental to the balance of the Arctic ecosystem and to subsistence lifestyles.
Our individual use of oil, as one out of over 7 billion people, contributes to CO2 emissions and global climate change. It also creates the demand for more oil exploration and the potential for oil spills during drilling and increased transportation through opening Arctic passageways. We can all play our part by making informed decisions about the Arctic and paying attention to how the Arctic is changing. Keep up-to-date on the research and initiatives of government agencies, non-profits and industry members. Learn more about the Arctic now, so you can understand and follow changes to come. The Arctic might be a model for how climate change will continue to affect the rest of the country in the future.
If you are interested in how our CO2 emissions affect oceans beyond the Arctic, check out the Ocean Acidification module. If you are interested in ways we can reduce our emissions, go through the Energy and Climate Literacy module.
PHOTO CREDIT: NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/275052main_seaicestill1_HI.jpg Summer ice in the Arctic, 2008.
Decisions you make impact the Arctic and the Arctic can impact you. Stay informed about the changing Arctic. Investigate policies and research being completed on Arctic oil exploration and spill response.