It’s no secret that the ice caps are melting; it’s something that scientists, environmentalists and activists around the world have been harking on for more than two decades. In fact, YouTubers have also begun heavily discussing the hot button topic and possible solutions as well within the last five years. However, what we didn’t previously know is that the ice caps are melting much faster than we originally thought. In fact, scientists have called the rate at which they’re melting “alarming”.
Glaciers as well as ice are losing an estimated 1% of their mass every year. These numbers refer to the most affected areas in the world, but even the less affected are seeing significant losses in mass. While it might not seem like a large or significant amount being lost, researchers are worried. Michael Zemp, who is a director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich, expressed his concern regarding the loss of mass. “At the current loss rate, these glaciers will not last through the century.”
The ice melting is also responsible for close to one third of the rising sea levels. “We will only see levels continue to rise over the coming years as more and more ice melts. Eventually, these levels will reach a detrimental peak and we will see a lot of coastal areas go under. It’s worrisome to say the least,” Zemp continued.
How fast are we talking?
Back in the 1960s, climate change wasn’t a pressing issue. “I wish we would have been paying attention sooner,” Zemp laments, “we might have been able to do more to stop it.” But alas, we were a world on the cusp of large technological breakthroughs and in order to make them happen, we needed fossil fuels and a blind eye to the suffering environment.
Now, climate change is everywhere and is a hot button news topic. But for many, it’s just that: a news topic that can be easily bypassed. That’s why it’s important to share some really scary facts: since 1960, 10.6 trillion tons of ice has melted away. And while that’s probably difficult to picture, imagine it this way: that would be a 1.2 meter sheet of ice that would easily cover all of the lowest 48 states in the US.
Recently, Nature published a study regarding the polar ice caps melting. In their study, they included the above information but also some frightening news as well. Not only were the world’s ice caps and glaciers melting at an alarming pace, but also they were melting much, much faster than we’d thought. According to Nature, the ice is disappearing 18% faster.
This number is compared to an estimate that scientists came up with six years ago. And if that isn’t enough to keep you up at night picture this: that rate is a staggering five times faster than it was in the 1960s.
What’s causing this to happen?
The short answer? Us!
Technology has been good to us and we’ve made major improvements to it over the last few hundred years, but now people are starting to question the cost of such developments. Fossil fuels has done irreparable damage to the planet and we’ve heavily dependent upon them. We have a high rate of consumption when it comes to fossil fuels and they’re used for almost everything in our day to day lives.
In the United States alone, nearly 81% of all of our energy are coal, oil, or natural gas; all of which are fossil fuels. We use these to power our vehicles, heat our houses, run electricity, and both power and manufacturing industries rely heavily on fossil fuels. These fuels are extremely harsh on the environment. They heavily impact the ozone, increase our carbon footprints, and are a major contributing factor in regards to climate change.
And it’s not just the smog filled cities like the one pictured above that are damaging things; even small cities are responsible for contributing to global warming. “Dependency on technology, fossil fuels, and the such are significantly hurting the world we live in. And it’s not just the large industrial cities that we have to worry about. Sure, they’re contributing the most but every time you flip on your home’s lights or throw away food, you’re hurting the environment. Every little bit matters and the ozone as well as the polar ice caps don’t care how ‘little’ the decision is; it’s still hurting it,” activists say.
“At present, we can’t sustain this consumption rate,” say many scientists. “We are causing irreparable damage to the environment and the ozone on a daily basis. There are attempts being made to reduce our impact, but that are from small groups and it’s not enough.”
Not only are we causing significant damage to the world we live in, but we also can’t sustain our dependency on fossil fuels. According to scientists, we will run out of oil within the next 53 years based on our current levels of production. We will also lose natural gas in 54 years and coal will cease to exist in 110. “We have somehow managed to deplete all of these fossil fuels in less than 200 years since we discovered them,” say scientists. “These fuels date back somewhere between 541 and 66 million years ago. It should have taken a lot longer to go through them. And since they’re fossil fuels, meaning they’re derived from fossils/bones, we’re not exactly producing anymore that can be used.”
You’ve heard the phrase carbon footprint but what does it mean and why is it important?
Chances are, you’ve probably heard the term carbon footprint at least a dozen times. It’s one of the hottest topics right now. But what exactly is it and why should you be concerned? Well for starters, carbon footprints are one of the leading causes of climate change and global factors such as melting ice caps.
A carbon footprint defined as the amount of greenhouse gases consumed to support a person’s daily life. It’s typically measured in equivalent tons of CO2 (carbon dioxide.) Almost everything you do leaves behind a footprint; driving your car, heating/powering your house, using products that affect the ozone such as certain hairsprays, etc. And we all have one.
“What people don’t realize is that their everyday decisions have a huge impact on the environment. Every time you opt to drive your car instead of walking or biking, you’re increasing your footprint. Every time you support large agricultural industries by purchasing meat, you’re hurting the environment. And a lot of people often think, ‘well it’s just one decision’ or ‘I’m only one person,’ but that kind of mentality is what’s hurting the ice caps so much. We need to make moves as a collective to minimize our impact,” say activists.
It’s hard to break away from our carbon footprint, but it is possible to significantly reduce it. There are also websites available where you can input your information and see the size of your carbon footprint. From there, you can make conscientious decisions to help reduce the size.
Minimizing your impact on the environment
For a lot of people, minimizing the carbon footprint that’s left behind is important. Many have turned to self-sustained living, tiny homes in eco-friendly areas, and some even live “off the grid”; which is to say that they are not wired into anything. No electricity wires, no sewer, no Internet. They self sustain through composting toilets and solar powered energy. Of course, this is on the far side of the scale.
For others, making eco conscientious decisions is a big part of how they minimize their carbon footprint. Tiny houses, non-GMO products, organic foods, and avoiding any products that contain chemicals that are hard on the environment are a way of dramatically shrinking that footprint.
Others make simple changes to their everyday routine. Instead of driving to the store that’s just a few blocks away, they’ll walk or ride their bicycle instead. Or while they’re at work during the day, they’ll turn off the lights and use natural lighting instead while raising the AC or lowering the heat to prevent the system from kicking on so much. You may also opt to open your window when the weather outside is to your liking instead of using the heating/cooling system.
“You don’t have to throw out your toilet and start composting in order to lessen your footprint,” activists say. “Simply making conscientious decisions throughout the day will significantly reduce your footprint and help the environment. You can start by recycling, abstaining from unnecessary plastic containers or simply reusing your own, and avoiding products that are bad for the environment. It might not seem like much, but if everyone starts making these kinds of decisions, we could see a huge change in the environment for the better.”
What happens if the ice caps melt completely?
Since the start of the article and the debate, this is likely the question that has been on your mind.
As the polar ice caps continue to disappear, you can expect more frequent and far more violet weather to happen. As the ice caps melt, more precipitation is released into the air. It goes without saying that this causes rain and unfavorable weather patterns. However, because the amount melting is staggering, there is a ton of moisture that is making its way up at a fast rate. This means that not only will you see more rain storms, but you’ll see far more violent weather conditions as well. Long term, coastal states and areas will become more vulnerable to hurricanes and tsunamis as these occur more frequently due to climate change. Flooding is also an issue and at some point, these areas might completely disappear beneath the sea as the water levels rise.
Others theorize that this is a gross overestimate. “Think of a glass of ice water. Once the ice melts, the water level doesn’t rise in your glass. The same would apply to us should the ice caps fully melt,” say some scientists. The ice that melts below sea level would just be replaced by salt water, causing the levels to remain the same.
Of course water isn’t the only thing we’d have to worry about should the ice caps melt. Earthquakes could also be on the horizon as the water levels rise. In order to explain this, Anthony Fordham created an analogy that’s extremely user friendly. Think of the Earth as a Ping-Pong ball with a dent in it. The dent is all of the pressure that’s been caused by the sheet of ice that’s resting on top of Antarctica. Remove the ice and the Earth’s crust becomes exposed, causing earthquakes all over. Oh, and as a bonus, it can also activate volcanoes.
Oddly enough, our days would also be a little bit longer. According to Steven Dutch, the polar ice caps melting would add 2/3 of a second to the day. How exactly would this add time to our days? Well, Dutch postulates that the water being redistributed across Earth would affect the “moment of inertia”, slowing the Earth’s rotation every so slightly.
The release of prehistoric viruses
Arguably one of the scariest and most likely situations that could happen with the melting of the polar ice caps is the release of prehistoric viruses.
Many scientists, including biologist Elena Giorgi, believe that there are deadly prehistoric viruses lying just beneath the surface of the Antarctic ice. “We’ve been kept safe from them for a long, long time thanks to the ice and permafrost,” Giorgi says. “However, with the ice caps melting at an alarming rate, it wouldn’t take long for the pathogens to become exposed and to make their way into our lives. And I don’t have to tell you that we aren’t prepared to fight them.”
According to The Huffington Post researchers have already proven that this is more than just the plot of the next blockbuster scary movie. “This isn’t a theory, we’ve discovered a large prehistoric virus lying dormant under the Siberian permafrost. We’ve named it ‘pithovirus’ and it’s not hard to imagine that there are more like it hiding under the Antarctic ice,” says Giorgi.
According to research the pithovirus has similar properties to modern day viruses. Unfortunately because it hasn’t been around in such a long time, we have no way of fighting it and currently no vaccine/remedy available for it should it be released. “I’m sure in time we’ll develop a way of fighting it, but not before it wipes out a portion of the population,” scientists theorize.
Humans won’t be the only ones impacted by this
Of course, humans won’t be the only ones to suffer; animals will also pay the price for our mistakes.
Should the Arctic ice disappear, polar bears will die off completely. Alun Anderson explains this in his After the Ice: Life, Death, and Geopolitics in the New Arctic. “By the year 2050, the Arctic will consist mostly of open ocean. This means that the polar bears will have very few areas to call home, rest, and raise cubs. These small pockets of territory will become so heavily fought over, that many polar bears will die in competition or from lack of space/food.”
He also suggests that the killer whale will become to the new Arctic symbol, replacing the polar bear wandering along ice. “Killer whales will thrive. There will be much larger areas for them to hunt in and they won’t have to compete with polar bears for food. This means that they will have access to their prey without competition outside of their own species.”
Anderson also speculates that walruses will feel the impact. “They use the ice to birth their pups. Because there will be so little of it left, the walrus population will significantly decrease. I don’t believe that they’ll become completely extinct, but their numbers will definitely dwindle.”
Penguins and seals will also feel the effects of global warming. With very few areas available to nest and get them out of the water away from predators, their numbers will also dwindle like the walruses. However, Anderson believes that they won’t go extinct either. “There’s still plenty of food for them to find in the ocean. More ocean means more fish so there’s no reason to believe that they’ll cease to exist. However, the lack of space will reduce colony size significantly.”
What are your thoughts?
We’d like to start by asking your thoughts regarding global warming. For many, it’s an extremely controversial topic. A lot of people deny its existence outright while others are fighting tooth and nail to slow down the process. We’d like to know where on the scale you fall. Do you fall somewhere in the middle or you more one side or the other? Are you actively doing anything to reduce your footprint? Let us know in the comment section below!