Global Warming Polar Ice Caps
What is Global Warming Doing to Polar Ice Caps?
The Polar Ice Caps dramatic decrease in size in recent years has been seen by many people as evidence of Global warming.
The melting of the polar ice caps has been very sudden and has alarmed many people. Polar ice caps melting is seen as an early warning signal that climate change is affecting our planet.
As a result of this concern, global warming effects on the polar ice caps have been, and are being studied intensively.
Increase in Arctic temperature
Because most of the Arctic has significantly increased in temperature over the last ten years, the polar ice caps, specifically sea ice in the Arctic, has been declining at a rate of 9 percent per decade.
Researchers suspect that changing atmospheric pressure patterns and warming Arctic temperatures are the cause. This increase in Arctic temperatures is thought to be a result of greenhouse gases that have built up in the atmosphere.
Global warming is the increase in average temperature which is observed and projected to occur in the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans.
The “greenhouse effect” is a term used to describe the effect that greenhouse gases have on the atmosphere, and subsequently the Earth. A portion of sunlight is absorbed by the Earth. The sunlight that is not absorbed, is reflected back to the atmosphere, at a wavelength longer than the initial sunlight.
These longer wavelengths of sunlight are absorbed by any greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, before they travel to space. While the lower radiant energy from the sun warms the atmosphere, the greenhouse gases reflect the additional radiant energy that would have been reflected to space, back to the Earth increasing the Earth’s temperature more.
Greenhouse gases in essence, act like a mirror, reflecting heat radiation back to the Earth. The higher the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the more energy and heat is reflected to the Earth.
The major greenhouse gases causing this viscious cycle include:
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – created by burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas, petrol, kerosene etc.
Water Vapor – atmospheres higher in humidity absorb more thermal energy, resulting in a warmer atmosphere, and as the temperature of the atmosphere rises, more water is absorbed by the atmosphere in an on-going cycle.
Methane (CH4) – It is produced by using natural gas, mining coal, raising livestock, and it is produced naturally in swamplands, and rice crops.
Ozone – Tropospheric ozone is an interaction between radiation and oxygen. Small fraction descends from the stratosphere to the Earth, and is also present in exhaust emissions from vehicles, pollution from factories, and burning vegetation. Ozone also interacts with methane in the atmosphere.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O) – This is produced by reactions and processes in the soil and water, and reactions which occur in fertilizer containing nitrogen. It is also produced by some power plants, nylon production, and nitric acid production.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – CFCs are entirely man made, invented in 1928, and used in refrigerants, as aerosol propellants, and cleaning solvents.
Is Global warming caused by the greenhouse effect?
Global warming due to the greenhouse effect is thought by many scientists to directly contribute to the warming of the Earth, thus causing polar ice caps to melt, which in turn affects the temperature of the earth, making it even warmer.
Research experts look to the Earth’s polar regions as early indicators for the Earth’s climate change, and statistics seem to show evidence of growing temperature increases on Earth.
Arctic melt season
Significant evidence of rising temperature is the length of the melt season in the Arctic ice caps. The melt season has been increased up to 17 days per decade since 1985. Longer melt periods mean reduced growth seasons, thinner sea ice caps, and more ice caps melting. This in turn exposes the sea and allows the sea to absorb more heat.
Floating and non-floating polar caps
Warming of any floating polar caps are not the biggest concern of flooding, because the ice is already floating, and its melting would not cause ocean levels to rise by itself (Archimedes principle). The conditions that the exposed sea water causes, and the conditions causing the ice caps to melt are very threatening however.
When any non-floating ice caps, sheets or glaciers begin melting, it will cause a rise in global ocean levels. A rise of just a few inches could cause disastrous effects on coastal towns, cities, and ecosystems.
Changes in the temperature of the ocean’s layers also impact ocean circulation, the amount of salt in the water, and marine life. If temperatures rise to melt sea ice caps, and arctic tundras thaw, it may release significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane trapped in the permafrost, or frozen soil.
Long term polar climate trends
Researchers are looking for patterns and trends of warming, not just yearly changes. Overall, the direction of the pattern does suggest continual warming for the Arctic ice cap region, yet there are some places such as Greenland which appear to have decreasing temperatures.
Although it is still difficult to connect specific causes and events to global warming, drastic reduction of greenhouse gases can help to stop the trend from accelerating.
If the patterns reflect correctly, the changes in temperature and precipitation patterns seen, can influence and increase the frequency, intensity, and duration of weather events such as droughts, heat waves, floods, and tornadoes.
Some things that we can do to help prevent global warming are:
- Use fluorescent light bulbs
- Turn lights off
- Unplug electronics when not in use
- Vehicle maintenance, inflating tires, and driving with less gas and brake action
- Buy more fuel-efficient vehicles
- Wash clothes in cold or warm water instead of hot water, and dry clothes outside when possible
- Lower home heating temperatures even by just 2 degrees down on the thermostat
- Use solar or wind energy as an option to electricity if possible
- Recycle plastic, paper and glass
Drastic reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today, can help to stop the increasing temperature trend, and melting of the Arctic polar ice caps, slowing the perpetuation of the rise in the Earth’s temperature.
The global warming of polar ice caps affects us all. Whether or not you believe in the global warming theory, individually helping to prevent global warming, will save you money, and every little step, will help to make a change for the better. Global warming and polar ice caps melting, are issues in which we all have opinions about, but the effects affect us all.