Polar Ice Caps Melting: (Problems and Solutions)
Eight degrees Fahrenheit may not sound like much. At most, it makes the difference between choosing to wear a sweater or not on an early-spring day. However, when climate experts estimate our world will be at least eight degrees warmer by 2100, we must concern ourselves with one of the biggest effects: Polar ice caps melting at the North and South Pole.
Climate scientists project that if we don’t do something to deter global emissions from their current path, this small rise in temperature will have grave consequences. Some of them are already apparent, and the effects impact every ecosystem and living thing—including humans.
Ice and Higher Sea Levels
A polar ice cap is an extensive area of land at the North or South Pole covered with massive amounts of ice. However, the warming atmosphere has the power of making polar regions vulnerable to different changes. As the average temperatures in the Arctic rise at an increased speed, the threat of the world’s ice sheets melting is becoming a reality.
While this has serious consequences for the region’s ecosystems, wildlife, and people, the most immediate impact is on the rising sea levels. Scientists estimate that by 2100, our oceans will be one to four feet higher, becoming a real threat to coastal systems and low-lying areas.
Causes of Polar Ice Caps Melting
Even though not all scientists agree on the problem of global warming, the melting trend has been debated in various studies. As part of the overall climate change phenomenon, the polar ice caps melting is an effect of trapped greenhouse gas emissions.
The burning of fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – causes the Earth’s temperature to go up significantly. According to NASA estimates, the Earth’s average surface temperature increased between 1906 and 2005 by about three-fourths of a degree Celsius.
What’s even more concerning is that the organization has also observed an accelerating trend. For the last half of the aforementioned period, global warming happened at nearly twice the rate of the first half of the period.
Even though temperatures appear to have been fairly stable prior to 1850, the current rise in sea levels is consistent with data showing increasing Earth temperatures. The overall warming also impacts the temperature of the planet’s oceans.
The leading cause of polar ice caps melting is the greenhouse effect. While some scientists suggest that the abundance of ice caps in certain areas in Greenland and Antarctica will not melt due to increased snowfall, hope is slim.
Ice Caps as Temperature Regulators
What do we rely on polar ice caps for? It’s vital they stay frozen because the bright white snow can reflect a large amount of sunlight back into space. With no ice caps, the overall temperature of Earth increases. In other words, the polar ice caps act as Earth’s temperature regulators, keeping it at a nice temperature. With polar ice caps melting comes increased rates of global warming.
Effects of Polar Ice Caps Melting
All this melting ice is not just filling our oceans at an alarming rate. It has other effects, too, including the increased risk of flooding, tropical storms and hurricanes during storm seasons. Coastal regions are the most vulnerable to rising sea levels. Let’s see what some of the effects of polar ice caps melting are.
Increasing Sea Levels. If the great ice cap covering Greenland would melt, it would add another 7 meters (20 feet) to the world’s oceans. Greenland is close to the equator – closer than Antarctica; higher temperatures make the ice more likely to melt. According to scientists from the Universities of London and Edinburgh, ice loss in Greenland and Antarctica combined add about 12 percent to sea levels.
Higher Ocean Temperatures. Another effect of polar ice caps melting is that temperature of the water is also increasing. Water achieves the highest density at 4 degrees Celsius. The water’s density decreases above and below this temperature. In other words, the same amount of water occupies more space. Therefore, when the overall temperature of the water increases, it naturally makes the oceans rise.
Increased Flooding Risks. Ice melting also affects people and places. For example, over one million people from Bangladesh had to be relocated due to the rising sea and the rising Ganges and Bramaputra. With no solution or no actions, more than
13 million people will lose their homes in the near future. Entire island nations and the world’s largest metropolises would be extensively flooded. Among them are New York, Miami and Los Angeles, as well as Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai and Sydney.
Can humankind keep the polar ice caps from melting? This is one of the greatest debates of the centuries, with both sides citing scientific studies to support their positions. However, many scientific and environmental organizations believe that it is possible for humans to slow or even halt the polar ice caps melting.
Reducing the use of fossil fuel. Burning fossil fuels adds to the amount of car
bon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. By now, scientists have come to agree that CO2 is a major contributor to climate change. Therefore, we can protect ice caps by reducing our use of fossil fuel and other man-made chemicals.
Tropical forest conservation and restoration. You wouldn’t think that saving the North and South Pole ice will have to do with tropical forests. In reality, worldwide rainforest conservation has a massive potential of addressing global warming. Rainforests are great carbon sinks, so the regrowth of hundreds of millions of acres of degraded rainforest could restore their ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
Recycle. Maybe the most simple on this list; take the steps to reduce your carbon footprint.
Glaciers and polar ice caps melting – and the consequent rising of the oceans – is an urgent problem. It’s just one of the ways that global warming will continue to negatively affect our environment. Therefore, it is our responsibility to identify solutions to the problem and prevent the planet’s degradation.
For now, the melting of ice caps may not seem so damaging or important on a day to day basis. However, it’s a major red flag. Climate change is happening and it will come to affect every aspect of life on Earth.