Why Global Warming Hits the Arctic Harder Than Anywhere Else
The melting of the sea ice has consequences on all levels, from local to global. Locally, all the animals that live up there have evolved to live with the sea ice, so its disappearance will have major effects through the entire food web.
Melting sea ice also sets up a feedback loop. Ice reflects a lot of the sun’s energy back up toward space, while open water absorbs more of that heat. So the less ice and the more water, the more the planet warms. (Read about the astronaut who is using his final days to fight for climate change awareness).
. . . A warming Arctic is going to affect our planet’s systems of ocean currents and wind patterns, which help drive a lot of our weather. Now, there is a giant conveyor belt in which cold water that forms near the edge of sea ice sinks, only to be replaced by warmer water from the south. This process makes the British Isles comfortable to live in, for example, instead of frigid. But this whole conveyor system is in danger of disruption as the poles warm.
As the Arctic warms, it may also impact air currents, such as the jet stream, which drives a lot of weather in North America by blocking or shuttling cold air.
. . . The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the average for the rest of the planet. It’s ironic, because the carbon emissions that are warming the planet are not produced in the Arctic, yet the Arctic is suffering the most. At the same time, what happens there is going to affect the rest of the planet.
Part of the problem is that at lower latitudes you often have more mixing of air and water, but the Arctic is more isolated at the top of the world. Also, warming of one or two degrees there has a bigger impact than other places because that’s enough to melt a huge amount of ice. That leads to dramatic changes in the landscape and sets up that feedback loop that leads to even more warming.
As the planet warms, species in temperate zones have been migrating northward. But Arctic species have nowhere to go. That’s a problem of living at the top of the world.
. . . A warming Arctic is going to impact the people who live up there. The animals they depend on, such as seals and polar bears, are going to decline, so they are going to have a hard time preserving their hunting traditions.
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Explorer and marine biologist Enric Sala talks with Leonardo DeCaprio about his new documentary, Before the Flood.
By Brian Clark Howard
October 25, 2016
Photo: Ice floes in Baffin Bay above the Arctic Circle, The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)(Credit: AP)