Arctic and Climate Change

Updated: Mar 16

The Arctic is vital to the battle against negative climate change, it acts as a reflector for sunlight and is also home to many species of animal key to biodiversity. Unfortunately, the Arctic is under threat both from second and first hand human interference. Nowhere on Earth is more negatively impacted by global warming than the Arctic. The past 30 years have seen areas of the Arctic Sea the size of Denmark, Sweden and Norway combined melt due to climate change. Global warming and the melting of Arctic ice has a cyclical relationship, the more ice that melts the more heat is trapped in the arctic, thus speeding up the process.

The melting of ice causes sea levels to rise across the globe, over the past century, the global average sea level has risen four to eight inches. Melting Arctic ice is expected to speed up sea level rise. Some experts estimate that the oceans will rise as much as 23 feet by 2100, causing island nations to become submerged, major cities to flood and mass destruction and panic the world over. The Arctic and the wildlife that inhabits it are also in danger from oil drilling, not only does the burning of oil cause pollution which in turn melts the ice but there is also oil found in the Arctic Sea which has been drilled. Drilling in that area of the world is extremely detrimental to the land, an oil spill would devastate the area for years.

Previously it had been believed that the main cause of the reduction in the Arctic’s ability to reflect heat was a build-up of soot on the surface. This has since been disproved, it is in fact the rapid loss of icy surfaces which is the cause Leading scientists say soot is not the major contributor, as levels have dropped recently, while warming has continued. The Arctic region has warmed significantly since the 1980s, up to three times as much as the average seen elsewhere around the world. When sunlight hits a white surface such as snow and ice, it reflects into space without warming its surroundings. When light hits a darker surface, it is less likely to reflect and more likely to warm the area thus melting ice and speeding up climate change. This results in an amplification in the cycle of warming, a phenomenon described as the Arctic Amplification. The US used satellite data, going back to the 1980s, to observe the albedo effect in the Arctic. The albedo effect is a measurement which determines how well a surface reflects sunlight. The study observed a 1.25%-1.51% per-decade reduction in the surface albedo effect in the Arctic during the springs and summers from 1982 to 2014. Snowfall has been decreasing as well, so that is a decrease contribution of about 30% to the snow cover reduction, it is believed that snowfall loss is down to warming temperatures in the region.

Sea levels are rising because of warming in the Arctic, the oceans are trapping more heat than ever before, and glaciers are melting at record rates. Average sea levels have risen over 8 inches since the late 1800’s, with three of those inches gained in the last 25 years. Thermal expansion in the arctic sea is a leading cause of this rise, when water heats up it expands meaning oceans are occupying more space. Rising temperatures caused by pollution inducing global warming is speeding up the rate in which glaciers are melting in the arctic. In previous years arctic snowfall generated from ocean evaporation have usually been sufficient in balancing out melting, however recently higher temperatures have both increased melting and decreased snowfall in the region. This creates an imbalance between glacier melting and ocean evaporation, causing sea levels to rise. Rising sea levels are having devastating effects on our planet and these will only worsen and become more frequent as more ice melts and oceans trap more heat. Costal habitats are at risk of flooding, erosion, soil contamination from salty sea water and the eventual loss of habitats. Higher sea levels are also coinciding with increased hurricanes and typhoons, devastating settlements and cities. It is predicted that at its current rate, water level rises will cause destructive floods causing mass migration as Islands and cities are destroyed.

Oil drilling is another problem facing the Arctic, oil giants such as Shell and ExxonMobil have been making forceful pushes to start a new oil rush in the arctic ocean. Russian company Gazprom have already started producing oil from the part of the Arctic Ocean north of Russia. Oil drilling is a precarious activity with the risk of oil spills and explosions posing great threats to natural environments. Drilling in the Arctic makes the process all the more complicated both in practise and potential disaster outcomes as fragile Arctic ice and tricky weather conditions make a spill in the region even more likely. If an oil spill was to occur in the Arctic then countless species of animals would be under threat, as well as communities who depend on those animals for their ways of life. It is vital that big oil companies do not continue with the drilling in the Arctic, the short-term effects as well as the long-term effects of burning fossil fuels will be catastrophic to this vital area of the world.


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