Climate Change In The Polar Region Of Earth

by | Jul 6, 2024 | Climate Change

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Climate change is accelerating in the polar region of Earth. The northern and southern hemispheres are warming faster than any other region, with Arctic ocean and air temperatures rising twice as quickly as elsewhere. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are depriving net mass to the sea due to increased melting in the atmosphere and ocean. Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the changes these regions are experiencing and will continue to endure due to climate change.

The loss of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic is a significant worry. During the winter months in both hemispheres, Earth’s polar region gains sea ice as the water freezes. In recent decades, the total amount has progressively declined. Polar bears, seals, and penguins rely on sea ice as their primary home. In addition to having an impact on biodiversity, diminishing sea ice accelerates the rate of ocean warming. Sea ice reflects sunlight, mitigating the consequences of rising temperatures. When sea ice melts and exposes the darker ocean surface, the sea absorbs more warmth, aggravating the impacts of climate change. This is referred to as the ice-albedo feedback. This article examines the characteristics of the polar region of Earth, the evidence of climate change in these locations, and the broader consequences of these changes.

The Polar Region of Earth

Polar regions of Earth are identified by their latitude and climatic conditions.

  • The Arctic: The Arctic is mostly oceanic, covered by a thin sheet of perennial sea ice and surrounded by landmasses from Canada, Russia, Greenland, Norway, and the United States (Alaska). The Arctic ecosystem comprises ice-covered oceans, tundra, and permafrost, which support polar bears, seals, Arctic foxes, and various migratory birds.
  • Antarctica: Antarctica is a continental area roughly twice the size of Australia, and it is covered by an enormous ice sheet. This region has some of the coldest temperatures on the planet and is home to unusual animals, including penguins, seals, and krill.

Also Read: Soil Microbes: The Invisible World Beneath Our Feet

Climate Change in the Arctic

Climate Change In The Polar Region Of Earth

Source: IPCC

The Arctic is rising at more than double the world average rate, known as Arctic amplification. This rapid warming has several significant consequences:

  • Rising Temperatures: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Arctic’s annual average temperature has risen by 2.7°C (4.9°F) since the early twentieth century. In some areas of the Arctic, temperatures were more than 10°C (18°F) higher than the 1981-2010 average during the summer of 2020.
  • Sea Ice Declines: The extent of Arctic sea ice is lowering at an alarming rate. According to NASA, the Arctic has lost approximately 13% of its sea ice per decade since 1979, when satellite records began. The minimum sea ice extent in September 2020 was the second-lowest ever recorded, reaching about 3.74 million square kilometres (1.44 million square miles).
  • Permafrost Thaw: Permafrost covers around 24% of the Northern Hemisphere’s landmass. With rising temperatures, permafrost is thawing, releasing large loads of greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane. According to a study published in Nature Communications, Arctic permafrost contains around 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon, double the amount in the atmosphere today.

Climate Change in Antarctica

While the Antarctic climatic system is complex and diverse, substantial changes have occurred:

  • Temperature Variations: West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula are among the fastest-warming locations on Earth. According to the British Antarctic Survey, temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by around 3°C (5.4°F) from the 1950s. East Antarctica has been mostly steady, with certain parts experiencing cooling trends, demonstrating the region’s climatic heterogeneity.
  • Ice Sheet Dynamics: The Antarctic ice sheet is shedding mass at an increasing rate. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Antarctica lost approximately 155 billion tonnes of ice annually from 2006 to 2015. The unfreezing of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is particularly concerning since it might considerably contribute to global sea-level rise.
  • Ice Shelf Collapse: Ice shelves and ice sheet floating extensions play an essential role in its stability. However, some ice shelves have collapsed in recent decades. For example, the Larsen B Ice Shelf disintegrated in 2002, accelerating glaciers that had previously been held back by the shelf.

Implications of Polar Climate Change

The changes occurring in the polar region of Earth have far-reaching implications:

  • Global Sea Level Rise: Melting ice from Greenland and Antarctica raises sea levels. NASA estimates that Greenland and Antarctica have contributed more than 14 millimetres (0.55 inches) to the increase since 2003. According to the IPCC, sea levels might rise by 0.61 to 1.10 metres (2 to 3.6 feet) by 2100 under high greenhouse gas emission scenarios.
  • Ocean Circulation: The melting of polar ice alters ocean circulation patterns. The freshwater influx from melting ice can alter the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which maintains global climate. A reduced AMOC might cause significant changes in weather patterns, such as colder winters in Europe and North America and altered precipitation patterns in the tropics.
  • Ecosystem Disruption: Polar animals are highly adapted to their surroundings, and sudden temperature and ice cover fluctuations endanger their survival. Polar bears, for example, rely on sea ice to hunt seals, and their decline has resulted in dwindling populations. Similarly, Antarctic krill, a vital component of the Southern Ocean ecosystem, rely on sea ice for reproduction. Changes in sea ice extent can disrupt the food web, impacting animals such as penguins, seals, and whales.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Polar areas are essential in Earth’s climatic feedback systems. Ice and snow have a high albedo, showing much solar light. As the ice melts, darker ocean and land surfaces are exposed, absorbing more heat and hastening warming—a phenomenon known as the albedo effect. Thawing permafrost produces greenhouse gases, resulting in a feedback cycle that exacerbates global warming.

Conclusion

In conclusion, climate change is causing enormous changes in the polar region of Earth, with far-reaching consequences for global ecosystems. The Arctic is warming at an unprecedented rate, resulting in massive ice loss, permafrost thaw, and ecosystem changes. While Antarctica experiences regional climate variability, it also experiences ice sheet loss and ice shelf collapse, contributing to sea-level rise. Addressing the difficulties faced by climate change in the polar region of Earth necessitates a global effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions, improve climate resilience, and conserve fragile ecosystems. The changes in these locations serve as a harsh reminder of the critical need to address climate change to protect our planet’s future. The polar region of Earth, which are typically seen as distant and unfriendly, are inextricably linked to the overall health of the Earth system, emphasising the importance of comprehensive and persistent climate action.

Also Read: Is The Earth Circumference Shrinking Or Expanding?

Author

  • Dr. Emily Greenfield

    Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.

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