The news about Alaska’s disappearance of sea ice this year is hard to ignore and is quite sobering. Alaska’s sea ice has melted completely and earlier than expected. No sea ice can be seen within 150 miles, as the temperature is at its highest ever recorded, according to the Truthout article, “Alaska’s Sea Ice Completely Melted Earlier Than Ever Before.”
A similar article on the Time shows a picture of a tribal elder standing on an eroded coast which was once had a sea ice barrier around it while looking at an ice-empty sea. At this time of year in Point Barrow, the northernmost point of Alaska, sea ice cannot be seen within 300-350 miles. In the past contains some ice along the coast within a hundred miles.
Effects of melting sea ice and glaciers
Loss of sea ice affects the earth’s temperature more than sea level rise because sea ice creates an albedo effect where heat and light are reflected into the sun so that during summer the earth’s temperature is much cooler with it. Loss of sea ice and glaciers will reduce albedo and that means heat from the sun will be absorbed more and will increase warming, according to the Time article.
In the past couple of decades warming in the arctic is observed to be as twice as the global rate. Melting of sea ice will result in increased temperatures which affect permafrost as well. The article says.
July 2019 was also the hottest month recorded since recording began in 1880. Greenland’s ice is melting, and this quantity of melt is not expected until 2070. The 12.5 billion tons of ice melt alone in one day in August has stunned scientists, calling it unprecedented the Resilience article mentions.
Also, the disappearance of Okjokull (Ok) glacier in Iceland is something very significant that scientists and climate change advocates have come together and held a ‘funeral’ service for its disappearance, installing a plaque on the site saying that we know what is going on and what needs to be done.
Published on The Guardian, Andri Snær Magnason who wrote, “The glaciers of Iceland seemed eternal. Now a country mourns their loss” points to human factor for the melting of glaciers. He mentioned that glaciers have stopped growing and even shrinking in all parts of the world, the Himalayas, Greenland, alps, and Iceland. The trend shows that all Iceland glaciers will vanish in the next 200 years, a total of 400 glaciers in Iceland alone will disappear, he wrote.
How fast are Alaskan glaciers melting?
A team of oceanographers and glaciologist have measured and calculated the melt of Alaska’s glaciers. In the National Geographic article, “Alaskan glaciers melting 100 times faster than previously thought,” it says that scientists are startled how much tidewater glaciers melt underwater. It explained further, to wit:
- Warming climates accelerates melting than usual, on the surface and underwater.
- Why is it important to know how much ice is melting because the information is essential for planning sea level rise and will also give an idea of climate change-induced melting.
How scientists figure this out is by using both actual observation, time-lapse cameras, and underwater equipment to know and measure the actual melt of glaciers in the surface exposed to air, to tidal water, and underwater.
When glaciers come into contact with ocean water, it loses a lot of mass due to melting. And during the months of May up to August, the underwater melt is almost at 5 feet to 16 feet per day, according to the National Geographic article.
In Cherskiy, Russia a scientist who has been monitoring climate change through the condition of permafrosts, has confirmed his suspects of something not going right.
The ground several hundred deep below the plant and soil rich layer should still be frozen just as it has always been for millennia, except that this year it was not, the National Geographic article narrates.
Why should these climate change phenomena cause concern?
Melting of permafrost can release huge amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, accelerating climate change. In some areas, permafrost contains carbon-rich materials. When thawed, microbes activates to consume buried organic matter in the soil, releasing more greenhouse gas, particularly methane, which is more potent than greenhouse gas in the atmosphere
The ground may slump in areas built on permafrost which can damage roads and buildings. Melting of permafrost will create depressions on the ground. These hollows will acquire snowmelt and water, creating wetlands and lakes which can expel huge amounts of methane.
The movement of water above and below the ground, due to permafrost melt will move heat into ground accelerating the melt while releasing methane into the atmosphere.
What are the consequences of climate change?
Climate change consequences are already felt across the globe, the Truthout article mentions, which are the following:
- moderate to severe food insecurity is experienced by an estimated 2 billion people according to a UN report due to a warming climate. Climate change will further aggravate their already conflict-laden and poverty-stricken situation.
- Animals are not adapting efficiently enough to climate change. Birds are laying eggs earlier than usual and doing enough to encourage their chicks to hatch sooner, more animal extinctions are predicted to happen.
- More wildfires are expected to happen, at least 100 wildfires in Alaska is recorded in summer this year, increasing the extent of wildfire in California is expected.
- Extreme heatwaves. July of this year accounts for the hottest month ever recorded in Europe and increase of severe heatwaves in the middle east region.
- Other effects are deaths and stunting of growth in Australia and across the pacific. Impact on kids includes higher vulnerability to diseases and lowering of cognitive functioning.
Time to prepare and act now
There is still time to prepare according to Moon, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder involved in the study of the Alaskan glacial melt. These observations are a real call to actions he says.
Fortunately, scientist still has time to figure things out and glaciers will still be here for decades to come, the National Geographic article concludes.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Kirkjufell Mountain – Iceland by Karl Hipolito