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 earlier than expected. No sea ice can be seen within 150 miles, as the temperature is recorded at its highest (Jamail, 2019).
A similar article on the Time shows a picture of a tribal elder standing on an eroded coast that 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, it 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.
According to the Time article, the loss of sea ice and glaciers will reduce albedo, which means heat from the sun will be absorbed more and increase warming.
In the past decades, Arctic warming has been twice the global rate. The melting of sea ice will result in increased temperatures which also affect permafrost.
July 2019 was also the hottest month recorded since recording began in 1880. The 12.5 billion tons of ice melt alone in one day in August has stunned scientists, calling it unprecedented, the Resilience article mentions. Greenland’s ice is melting, and this quantity of melt is not expected until 2070.
Also, the disappearance of the Okjokull (Ok) glacier in Iceland is very significant. Scientists and climate change advocates have come together and held a “funeral” service for its disappearance. They installed a plaque, saying we know what is going on and what needs to be done.
Andri Snær Magnason, who wrote, “The glaciers of Iceland seemed eternal. Now a country mourns their loss” in The Guardian, points to the human factor for the melting of glaciers. He mentioned that glaciers have stopped growing and shrinking in all parts of the world, including the Himalayas, Greenland, the alps, and Iceland. The trend shows that all of Iceland’s 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 glaciologists have measured and calculated the melt of Alaska’s glaciers. The National Geographic article,” “Alaskan glaciers melting 100 times faster than previously thought”, says that scientists are startled by how much tidewater glaciers melt underwater. It explained further, to wit:
- Warming climates accelerate melting more 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?
Scientists figure this out by using observation, time-lapse cameras, and underwater equipment to know and measure the actual melt of glaciers on the surface exposed to air, tidal water, and underwater.
When glaciers come into contact with ocean water, it loses a lot of mass due to melting. From May to August, the underwater melt is almost 5 feet to 16 feet per day, the National Geographic article mentions.
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 been for millennia, except that this year it was not, the National Geographic article narrates.
Why should these climate change phenomena cause concern?
The melting of permafrost can release vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change. In some areas, permafrost contains carbon-rich materials. When thawed, microbes consume buried organic matter in the soil, releasing more greenhouse gas, mainly methane, which is more potent than greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
The ground may slump in areas built on permafrost, damaging 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 vast amounts of methane.
Due to permafrost melt, water above and below the ground will move heat into the environment, 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:
- According to a UN report, moderate to severe food insecurity is experienced by an estimated 2 billion people 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, and the increasing extent of wildfires in California is expected.
- Extreme heatwaves. July 2019 accounts for the hottest month ever recorded in Europe and the increase of severe heatwaves in the middle east region.
- Other effects are deaths and growth stunting 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
According to Moon, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder, there is still time to prepare to study the Alaskan glacial melt. These observations are a real call to action, he says.
Fortunately, scientists still have time to figure things out, and glaciers will still be here for decades, the National Geographic article concludes.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Kirkjufell Mountain – Iceland by Karl Hipolito