The Arctic ice is highly sensitive to changes in air and ocean temperature. Over the last few decades, the Arctic ice is shrinking at an alarming rate of 9 percent per year. This indicates that a massive collapse might be approaching. According to the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the Arctic sea ice extent peaked at 14.52 million square kilometers on March 24 this year, a historical low in the satellite record since 1979. The number is slightly smaller than the annual maximum ice extent of 14.54 million square kilometers in 2015, and is 1.12 million square kilometers below the average from 1981 to 2010. If the trend continues, the Arctic may well become ice-free in summer for the first time by 2050.
Sea level rise
Polar ice melt is one of the primary causes of sea level rise. From 2003 to 2008, the loss of glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic region, including the Greenland Ice Sheet, contributed to more than 50 percent of the global sea level rise (about 3 mm per year). Located in the Arctic region, the Greenland Ice Sheet is the second largest ice mass on Earth, next only to the Antarctic Ice Sheet. The vast body of ice stretches 2,480 kilometers in length and up to 1,100 kilometers in width, covering an area of approximately 14 times the size of England.
In the IPCC Third Assessment report, scientists estimate that if the entire ice sheet were to melt, the sea level would rise about 7.2 meters (24 feet), which would inundate almost every major coastal city in the world. Consequently, putting nearly one-third of the world’s population in danger. It is expected that the arctic ice melt would speed up global sea level rise over the long run as the glaciers and ice sheets continue to respond to the warming temperature.
Reinforce Climate change
Melting Arctic ice can accelerate global warming by reinforcing the vicious feedback loops on climate change. A large quantity of organic carbon derived from terrestrial vegetation is now trapped in the permafrost (frozen soil) that underlies the Arctic region. As the permafrost thaws, the microbial activity in the soil increases, decomposing the organic matter and releasing carbon dioxide and methane – a more potent greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere. The release of these heat-trapping gasses absorbs radiation from the Earth’s surface, which in turn causes more permafrost to thaw and so on. Under current energy consumption mode, around 120 gigatons of trapped carbon would be released by 2100 due to thawing permafrost, equaling to 0.29 degrees increase in average global temperatures.
Loss of biodiversity
Arctic wildlife is now at great risk due to increasing habitat loss. Take polar bears as an example, the presence of sea ice provides the polar bears with a platform for giving birth, raising cubs and hunting preys. Polar bears feed almost exclusively on ringed seals and bearded seals, which are equally as dependent upon the sea ice for living. Therefore, changes in ice extent and stability are of critical importance to their opportunity to feed and reproduce. If the sea ice melts earlier in the spring and forms later in autumn, the solar bears would be forced to spend longer time on land, meaning, they may not have enough fat reserves to survive the ice-free season. Just like polar bears, many Arctic animals, including the walrus, seals, and certain seabirds, are relying on sea ice for survival. These animals would have nowhere to go if the Arctic ice disappears.
How can we stop that?
The rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice in recent years is the result of human-induced climate change. Therefore, to prevent the Arctic sea ice from further declining, we should address climate change first. Although, you may think your personal carbon footprint has nothing to do with the big picture of climate change, each person can bring a significant help adopting a responsible lifestyle.
To help you get a grip on climate change, this article identifies 8 easy steps you can do at home, school, or office to reduce carbon footprint, alleviate climate change, and stop the Arctic ice from melting.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Reduce garbage by choosing reusable products. If it is something that can’t be reused, try to purchase products with minimum packaging. Recycle paper, plastic, glass, newspaper, and aluminum.
- Save gas and walk more: When you save a gallon of gas you can help keep 20 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere. You also get lots of benefits by walking to the office, school, or grocery store.
- Plant a tree: Plants absorb CO2 and produce oxygen. Planting a tree can help balance the increases of CO2.
- Eat green: How much of the food in your grocery store is imported from across the world? Transportation is a major contributor of greenhouse gasses. Eat locally grown food to reduce transportation emissions.
- Use less heat and air conditioning: Use less air conditioning and heat, or just keeping your house 2 degrees lower in winter or 2 degrees higher in summer can make a big difference.
- Save electricity: Turn off the lights, television, PC, or any other electrical devices when not in use.
- Use less hot water: Simple social fixes like setting your water heater at 120 degrees, using low flow shower heads, washing your clothes in cold water, or using the energy saving setting on your dishwasher can go a long way.
- Inform others: Inform family, friends, and colleagues about how they can reduce their carbon footprint by following the tips above.
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