Frozen for thousands of years in Arctic permafrost, billions of tons of carbon and methane are slowly being released into the atmosphere due to rising temperatures. A new study shows that while the release is slow, continued thawing of this permafrost will significantly impact Earth’s climate.
When looking down on the Arctic from space and you can see some beautiful arch-like structures sculpted out of sea-ice. Yet due to a rapidly warming planet the average duration of these arches is decreasing by about a week every year. They used to last for 250-200 days and now they last for 150-100 days.
As the Arctic loses ice and the ocean absorbs more solar radiation, global warming is amplified. That can affect ocean circulation, weather patterns and Arctic ecosystems spanning the food chain, from phytoplankton all the way to top predators.
Arctic sea ice is itself an endangered species. Next month its extent will reach its annual minimum, which is poised to be among the lowest on record. The trend is clear: Summer ice covers half the area it did in the 1980s, and because it is thinner, its volume is down 75%. With the Arctic warming three times faster than the global average, most scientists grimly acknowledge the inevitability of ice-free summers, perhaps as soon as 2035. “It’s definitely a when, not an if,” says Alek Petty, a polar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The Arctic sea ice is melting faster than climate models had predicted, researchers at the University of Copenhagen warned on Tuesday. A recent study from Britain’s University of Lincoln concluded that Greenland’s ice melt alone is expected to contribute 10-12 centimetres to the world’s rising sea levels by 2100. Another group of researchers recently concluded that the melting of Greenland’s ice cap has gone so far that it is now irreversible, with snowfall no longer able to compensate for the loss of ice even if global warming were to end today.
Record warming in the Arctic region this year- 5 degrees Celsius above the 30-year average-has contributed to the collapse of the last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic. This is both a devastating consequence -and accelerator – of climate change.
As the Arctic warms, exploding blooms of phytoplankton ( tiny algae) have drastically altered the Arctic’s ability to transform atmospheric carbon into living matter, what some scientists are calling a “significant regime shift.”