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The Arctic as a Global Challenge – Part one

15/03/2013 | By | Reply More

Arctic Report Cards describe dramatic changes in the Arctic

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Chasing Ice” a film you must see. A big screen phenomenon… Do not miss it. Currently Screening NATIONWIDE!  See www.chasingice.com/showtimes  for your local screenings

Climate change is having a profound impact on the Arctic, its sensitive marine ecosystem and the human communities that rely on the area’s natural wealth.

The Arctic is warming at almost twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Water temperatures are also rising, melting the pack ice more rapidly than scientists predicted only a few years ago.

In 2007, seasonal minimum sea ice extent reached a record low – 23 percent less than has been recorded since satellite-based measurements started in 1979.

This staggering pace of sea ice melt has continued in 2008 and 2009 – with the second and third lowest recorded coverage. Some scientists estimate that the Arctic could be seasonally ice-free in 10 to 30 years.

Warming in the Arctic will not only affect those who live there but will influence the entire planet. The Arctic helps regulate the global climate system and influences weather patterns across much of the northern hemisphere.

Extensive ice-covered areas reflect large amounts of solar energy back into space, helping to cool the planet.

This heat imbalance drives ocean currents and atmospheric circulation, transporting cooler waters to the tropics and influencing the jet stream and weather patterns in North America and other part of the world.

Arctic-1

Arctic sea ice is carried southwards into the North Atlantic, where it melts. The resulting volume of relatively fresh water affects the ecology of the area and helps drive the worldwide circulation of the oceans.

Impacts of the warming Arctic include:

  • Changes in recent decades have had profound effects, including the transition from cod to shrimp in Greenlandic waters.
  • Changes in freshwater inputs to the North Atlantic may alter the global ocean currents with far-reaching effects on the global climate.
  • The amount of solar energy absorbed by Arctic seas increases with large areas of open water. That causes even warmer seas.
  • Warming temperatures are leading to the release of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – from the seabed and melting tundra, wetlands and lakes in the Arctic.

These changes could potentially impact global weather patterns and ocean circulation.

You might be wondering why the world is worried about ice melting. Glaciers are ancient rivers of ice. The loss of glaciers have a direct impact to man. It will lead to both flooding in some areas and water shortages in others as the global distribution of water changes.  Glaciers act as reservoirs of fresh water.

Imagine then what the effect of global warming will be to those places that are full of ice. One such place is Greenland. Melting glaciers is not just limited to Greenland. Today nearly all of Alaska’s glaciers are melting. The fate of the glaciers in the Andes, the Himalayas and tropical glaciers of Africa, all share similar fates.

Greenland is located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, lying just east of Canada.  Ice melting in Greenland accounts for one-sixth the global rise of sea level. Greenland has become the single largest contributor to rising sea levels.

Scientists have discovered that the speed of melting glaciers in Greenland that discharge ice into the ocean has doubled and tripled. The landscape of Greenland is changing over the years due to global warming, with landmarks like the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf having disappeared completely.

So why haven’t scientists realised how fast Greenland is melting?

The fact is that snowfall in Greenland has increased; this has hidden how much of the ice is really melting. The snow has helped ice that melts to refreeze. It is only now becoming apparent how much ice of Greenland has already melted. But there isn’t enough snow falling to replace what is lost through melting.

In fact it has been calculated that if all the snow on Greenland were to melt then the Oceans would rise by 20 feet.

According to scientists, Greenland’s ice sheet, which is up to 3 km thick and covers an area almost the size of Mexico, is losing about 200 million cubic meters of ice a year. That is enough ice to fill almost 80,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

A lot is made of scientists disagreeing about climate change. As you travel among researchers, however, you learn the differences are often minor. There is agreement that heat is generally rising and climates are misbehaving, becoming erratic. It is cause for concern at a time in human history where most of civilization is gathered along fragile coastlines, industry and agriculture worldwide dependent on this world being a level playing field, environments continuing as they are now.

The disagreement between scientists is often where change leads and how fast it takes to get there.

Think of what that would do to all the cities and inhabited places that are near the oceans. Areas having gently sloping land like deltas of coastal rivers will feel the impact of an increase in sea levels with water going inland. Low lying areas like Bangladesh and Florida would be devastated.

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Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt

Conference in Iceland

The Institute of International Affairs and Centre for Small State Studies (IIA) at the University of Iceland will held a conference on March 18. and 19. 2013, in Reykjavik, Iceland, when a new Research Centre: Centre for Arctic Policy Studies (CAPS), under the auspices of the Institute of International Affairs at the University of Iceland will be launched. The Sweden´s Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, and his Icelandic counterpart, Össur Skarphéðinsson, will both participate.

The future of the Arctic, as its ice melts by land and sea, has become a hot topic in governmental as well as academic and media circles.

Over the last decade, each of the eight countries that founded the Arctic Council – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the USA – has published at least one major policy document on the topic, as has the European Union as an institution.  Often called Arctic ‘strategies‘, these documents address a wide range of issues in the economic, environmental, and institutional fields as well as more basic issues of safety and sovereignty.

You can find here the programme of this coming March conference. You can also find here the Arctic Treasure: Global Assets Melting Away – a summary of a report that for the first time quantifies the global cost of losing the Arctic’s climate cooling services.

View the video below from the Host Country Agreement signing ceremony held in January 2013, in Tromsø, Norway, when the Arctic Council Secretariat was formally opened. In the video you can hear some of the speeches held by Espen Barth Eide, Carl Bildt and Leona Aglukkaq and also observe the signing of the Host Country Agreement between Norway and the new Director of the secretariat Magnús Jóhannesson.


In my next article I will discuss the future of Greenland as part of the Arctic and its resources under the ice cap. From vision to realisation and responsibility for the analysis and development of a new model of society.

You can also read my related posts of the Arctic as;  The Arctic: A New Model for Global Cooperation and New Sea Route between Asia and Europe

 

Category: Greenland

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