Antarctica, the Arctic and Greenland: the world’s last great wilderness areas, home to unconquered frontiers, unfathomable challenges and awe-inspiring scenery. Now they are melting, breaking up, and slowly shrinking. Climate change and global warming are creeping into these icy worlds causing changes that are altering large areas of these regions as well as large parts of the planet.
The Arctic is home to the North Pole, polar bears, whales, seals, walrus and Santa (yet to be scientifically confirmed). There is no landmass at the North Pole, only floating ice. In September 2007, this floating ice cap melted and shrank to the smallest it has ever been, shattering the previous record set in 2005.
Since 2007 the area of ice has crept up slightly before dropping again in 2010 but this new ice is thinner than normal continuing the decrease in ice mass. September 2012 saw the smallest ice coverage in the Arctic since we began measuring.
The Arctic is the planet’s air-conditioner it cools the hot air from the tropics. As more and more ice is melted, less sunlight is reflected back into space leaving more dark ocean exposed to the sun. This ocean soaks up more sunlight. The ocean warms and melts more ice. You get the picture.
Antarctica is home to a rich and diverse collection of whales, seals, penguins, albatross, fish and krill. The landmass of Antarctica holds 70% of Earth’s fresh water, frozen as ice. Antarctica holds the climatic record of our past trapped in its ice. Scientists have drilled 3,000 metres into the ice core to reveal the climate record of the past 800,000 years.
Unlike the Arctic, where melting ice will not affect sea levels (much like ice in a drink), melting ice in Antarctica has a direct impact on sea levels. It causes them to rise.
In 1993 the scientists of the British Antarctic Survey predicted that the Wilkins ice shelf would be stable until 2023. In early 2008 this ice shelf started breaking up. The reason? The greatest temperature rise in the world has occurred in the Antarctic Peninsula in the past 50 years: a rise of 2.5 degrees. With this rise comes the melting.
‘Antarctica has become a symbol of our time. The test of man’s willingness to pull back from the destruction of the Antarctic wilderness is the test also of our willingness to avert destruction globally. If we cannot succeed in Antarctica we have little chance of success elsewhere.’ – Edwin Mickelburgh – Antarctic Author
The third big slab of ice on Earth is Greenland. It is often referred to as the ‘canary in the coal mine’, due to the sensitive nature of its ice sheets to changes in temperature. Greenland’s Ice Sheet partially melts and then refreezes with winter snows each year. Warmer temperatures cause the ice sheet to melt and retreat at the edges, in the interior this warming creates more moisture in the air leading to heavier snowfalls. The overall result is a loss of ice mass.
It turns out that Greenland was so named by a Viking ‘Eric the Red’ who was trying to encourage settlers to buy land from him there with a clever marketing ploy. The Greenland ice sheet is between 400,000 and 800,000 years old.