The Arctic is burning, and we are the culprits. Over the past few decades, the environmental concerns in the Arctic arose from climate change and global warming have raised great attention in the science communities, especially among climate scientists. However, few effective responses have been taken by the international community. With the Arctic facing more and more extreme challenges in recent years, it is necessary for all of us to push for greater changes that ameliorate the current situation.
“Certainly, 2020 is a strange year all around, for a lot of reasons beyond climate, but it’s certainly setting up to be an extreme year in the Arctic.”---Walt Meier, senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Global warming and climate change are two of the most defining crises of our time. We know they are a big deal, but how are they driving more impacts on the Arctic? The answer is arctic amplification, a phenomenon where the Arctic warms about twice as fast as the mid-latitudes. The Arctic is more susceptible to global warming and climate change due to its unique geographical and climatic conditions that amplify the impacts through a positive feedback loop. Before, the Arctic was able to form physical insulation through abundant ice sheets that serve as reflective surfaces for incoming solar radiation. Now with fewer ice sheets, the Arctic loses its ability to “stay cool” and exposes even more open water that absorbs heat, further melting the ice sheets that protect the region from climate change.
Clearly, warming temperatures in the Arctic result in serious problems. Here are some specific examples:
1)Sea level rise
Losing about 80% of its volume since 1979, melting ice sheets in the Arctic Ocean has led to deep concerns. One of the direct impacts of these melting ice sheets is sea-level rise. You might have heard about this problem from scientists for years, but the worries will become a reality a lot sooner than we thought. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to be unregulated, intensified impacts of climate change will result in catastrophic consequences on our coastal cities. Scientists have concluded that if the global temperature increases 2 more degrees celsius higher, crucial cities such as Tokyo and New York will be flooded. With the current paste of global warming, this event is highly possible to take place within our lifetime if no actions are taken to solve this problem.
2) Permafrost thawing
Permafrost is grounds that remain frozen for years. It serves as the building foundation for many local villages, the critical environment that supports the arctic ecosystems, and the largest carbon sink of the world. However, as the temperature in the region continues to rise, permafrost thawing, or melting, imposes enormous threats to not only the local environment but also the entire globe. One of the greatest concerns regarding permafrost thawing is the release of “super pollutants”. Scientists have estimated that around 40% of Earth’s permafrost could disappear by the end of the century. It is also estimated that around 1,400 gigatons of carbon are stored in the arctic permafrost. If all of the stored carbon is released to the atmosphere, Earth will face one of the most severe pollutions it has ever endured in history. Moreover, as permafrost begins to thaw, animals and plants that were once frozen begin to decay, emitting even more greenhouse gases to the environment that further fuels the impacts of global warming. Scientists have also detected unknown, ancient viruses that could cause potential diseases with deadly health effects on humans. Because of the lack of sufficient information on the viruses, it is extremely challenging to develop effective cures for these potential diseases, placing the world again under the haunting risks of a global health crisis.
3) Extreme weather
This year, Siberia's "Pole of Cold" has detected a shocking 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit). This type of extreme temperature was thought by climate scientists to be hit in 2100, and it is now occurring 80 years earlier. Can you imagine the arctic, supposedly one of the coldest places on Earth, is hitting higher temperatures than places like Dallas and Houston? This unusual phenomenon clearly serves as a warning sign that should alarm more people regarding the Arctic crisis.
Extreme temperatures in the Arctic have led to extreme weather around the world. The warming in the Arctic affects jet streams that drive rippling effects on the global climate. Flooding in China, heatwaves in Europe, and disastrous hurricanes in the U.S all exemplify how the impacts of climate changes in the Arctic are not that distant to us.
“We always expected the Arctic to change faster than the rest of the globe, but I don’t think anyone expected the changes to happen as fast as we are seeing them happen.”----Meier
Now we know about the problems, here's what we can and should do:
1) Reduce the level of atmospheric pollutants
Control emissions of pollutants: reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases is one of the most direct and impactful ways to relieve the effect of global warming on the Arctic. Governments should implement economic policies that overlook short-term profits and emphasize the long-term benefits of sustainable energy use. Carbon reduction can only become a reality if governments around the world stop being ignorant toward the climate crisis of both the Arctic and the globe.
Remove existing pollutants: utilizing the plants and vegetation to biologically capture and remove existing pollutants such as carbon dioxide is another innovative way to reduce the level of atmospheric pollutants that contribute to global warming. Restoring wetlands is one specific example of what we can do to achieve this process. However, the process will be time-consuming, and we certainly do not have enough time with the current situation.
Geoengineering is a promising solution toward arctic amplification that has already been studied and applied in some polar regions. Ice911, for example, is a non-profit organization that developed reflective "sand" to substitute the role of the ice sheets, reflecting solar radiation and preventing heat from being absorbed by the open water. The organization successfully covered 17,500 and 15,00 square meters of Arctic ice with an automated deployment system in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
3) Support and Vote
While scientists and researchers do their jobs in developing innovative technology to tackle the problem of warming in the Arctic, what we can do as citizens is to support environmental legislation that enforces sustainable practices of businesses and industries, especially in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and resource depletion. Everyone has the power to save the environment if we choose attentiveness over negligence.
The future of the Arctic is the future of humanity. Now it's the time for all of us to put the stake of humanity above short-term benefits and heal the Arctic fever.