The Arctic is a polar region placed at the northernmost part of the Earth, thus encompassing the area around the North Pole. Covered most of the time with ice and snow, global warming and climate change, however, have resulted in accelerated melting rates that in turn, threatens not only the local environment but also the environments and regional ecosystems and human communities across the globe.
Possible Effects of Melting Arctic: The Major Impacts of Vanishing Ice in the North Pole
To understand what vanishing ice in the Arctic means, it is important to take note of the fact that the Earth is an interconnected system. The changes in the region have actually created observable and measurable effects in other parts of the globe. Experts have identified disastrous consequences or impacts if the Arctic continues to melt further due to global warming.
Increased Global Warming as the Earth Absorbs More Energy from the Sun
White surfaces reflect light and heat. Remember that the ice and snow cover the Arctic. Established estimates noted that the region actually reflects 80 percent of the energy coming from the Sun back into space, thereby helping the Earth to remain cool. Scientists call this phenomenon as the albedo effect.
However, melting Artic means a reduced mass of ice that in turn, also means reduced white surfaces and exposed land and ocean surfaces. The region would be unable to reflect the energy from the Sun into space because the darker land and ocean surfaces would absorb 90 percent of that energy, thus accelerating global warming further.
A study by K. Pistone, I. Eisenman, and V. Ramanathan noted that the effect of declining sea ice in accelerating global warming had been hypothesized more than 50 years ago. To test this assumption, they used satellite radiation budget measurements along with satellite microwave sea ice data. Results revealed that the diminishing albedo effect due to melting Arctic has been responsible for 25 percent of global warming.
Flooding in Coastal Areas Due to Rising Sea Level from Melting Land-Based Ice
Melting sea ice in the Arctic does not cause sea level to rise. It is essentially already part of the sea volume. However, there are layers of ice on lands. A factsheet published online by the National Snow and Ice Data Center mentioned that sea level would rise about 6 meters or 20 feet if the ice sheet on Greenland melts.
Sea levels are already rising. Although the contribution of Greenland remains negligible, the area is already melting. Researchers A. Aschwanden et al. explained that surface melting in Greenland, mostly in its southwest region, nearly doubled from 1990 to 2008.
What would happen if sea-level rise after most or all of the ice in the Arctic lands melted? For starters, small island-nations would become uninhabitable. Remember that there are also cities established in coastal areas. In the United States, cities in Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York will have to be abandoned. The situation would essentially have considerable social and economic impacts.
Extreme Weather Events Due to the Role of the Arctic in the Global Weather System
Remember that the Earth is an interconnected system. Climate scientists have reason to believe that the weather and climate in the Arctic have a substantial impact on the entire weather and climate system of the world, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.
A 2019 study by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research showed that extreme weather is two to four times likely to occur in the eastern part of the U.S. whenever the Arctic is unusually warm.
The researchers explain that the correlation might be due to the effect of warming Arctic on the jet stream. As a backgrounder, jet streams are fast flowing, narrow, meandering air currents that control the weather events on Earth. The difference between the cold temperature of the Arctic and the warmer temperature in the middle latitudes drives the jet stream. However, the melting Arctic causes the region to warm, and thus, the temperature difference diminishes.
Release of Trapped Greenhouses Gasses from the Thawing Permafrost
A permafrost is any ground that remains frozen for at least two years straight. The Arctic has an expansive area of these permanently frozen lands. It is important to take note that these grounds contain trapped greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane. Thus, one of the possible effects of melting Arctic is the release of these gasses as the permafrost thaws.
The study of A. H. MacDougall, C. A. Avis, and A. J. Weaver explained that permafrost soils contain an amount of carbon that is as twice as the present atmospheric pool. Another study by J. Wilkerson et al. showed that nitrous oxide emissions from thawing Alaskan permafrost are about twelve times higher than previously assumed. Note that this gas is about 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Essentially, the release of these greenhouse gasses would accelerate further global warming and thus, would also accelerate further the melting of the North Pole and possible, the ice found in the Antarctic or the South Pole.
Takeaway from the Effects of Melting Arctic: Relationship Between the Vanishing North Pole Ice and Global Warming
There is essentially an interconnection between the Arctic and the rest of the world. As a closed-loop and interconnected system, the changes in one area and factor on Earth would naturally have far-reaching consequences. From the discussions above, studies revealed that the melting Arctic would have environmental, social, and of course, economic impacts.
Another notable effect of melting Arctic centers on its impact on global warming and climate change. Aside from disrupting the global weather system and increasing the tendencies of extreme weather events, the vanishing ice in the North Pole also accelerates the warming of the Earth due to diminished albedo effect and release of greenhouse gasses from thawing permafrost. Accelerated warming also means accelerated melting of the region.
Nevertheless, the important role in the conditions in the Arctic has not only stimulated discussions among world leaders, including policymakers, but has also inspired scientists to come up with novel solutions. Some of these solutions center on refreezing the region using principles and practices in engineering, geoscience, and climate science, among others.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Aschwanden, A., Fahnestock, M. A., Truffer, M., Brinkerhoff, D. J., Hock, R., Khroulev, C., … Khan, S. A. 2019. “Contribution of the Greenland Ice Sheet to Sea Level Rise Over the Next Millennium.” Science Advances. 5(6): eaav9396. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav9396
- Romanowsky, E., Handorf, D., Jaiser, R., Wohltmann, I., Dorn, W., Ukita, J., Cohen, J., Dethloff, K., and Rex, M. 2019. “The Role of Stratospheric Ozone for Arctic-Midlatitude Linkages.” Scientific Reports. 9(1). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-43823-1
- Pistone, K., Eisenman, I., and Ramanathan, V. 2014. “Observational Determination of Albedo Decrease Caused by Vanishing Arctic Sea Ice.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111(9): 3322-3326. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1318201111
- MacDougall, A. H., Avis, C. A., and Weaver, A. J. 2012. “Significant Contribution to Climate Warming from the Permafrost Carbon Feedback.” Nature Geoscience. 5(10): 719-721. DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1573
- National Snow & Ice Data Center. n.d. “Quick Facts on Ice Sheets.” Quick Facts. National Snow & Ice Data Center. Available online
- Wilkerson, J., Dobosy, R., Sayres, D. S., Healy, C., Dumas, E., Baker, B., and Anderson, J. G. 2019. “Permafrost Nitrous Oxide Emissions Observed on Landscape Scale Using the Airborne Eddy-Covariance Method.” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. 19(7): 4257. DOI: 10.5194/acp-19-4257-2019