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Global Science TV: Arctic ice keeps shrinking. Here’s what that means for all of us

The climate in the Arctic is changing before all eyes. A major new study has found that the region is shifting to a new climate with open water and rain replacing ice and snow. A feedback loop is also rapidly gaining pace. That's bad for the Arctic and for the planet.
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Imagine an Arctic region with less ice and snow and more open water and rain.

The transition to a new Arctic climate is well underway.

There’s an enormous range of change in the Arctic. You can’t find any system in the Arctic, which isn’t responding to this man-made climate change.

Rising temperatures are taking a toll.

This animation shows the extent of sea ice in the Arctic for September 15 2020… around 3.74-million square kilometers.

The orange line shows the average extent for that same day between 1981 and 2010.

This year is the second-lowest on record.

It’s going down by about 13%  every decade in terms of the extent of the sea ice, but also the age of the sea ice is decreasing. So in the past, you would have sea ice that would form one year and go on to the next and would build up and up and up and become multi-year ice. And that’s the kind of ice that walruses or polar bears or other kind of significant creatures  in the Arctic depend on. And that’s decreased by 90% in the last few decades. Really dramatic changes.

That means even extremely cold years are not resulting in the levels of ice once considered typical.

Scientists are just as worried by melting permafrost – the frozen layer of soil that underlies the Arctic.

For tens of thousands of years, permafrost has served like a giant freezer, locking in ancient microbes.

“Those which you have buried inside the soil, they are now coming up, and also the threats of anthrax and other infectious diseases. That is a huge problem where permafrost exists.”

That’s right, as the permafrost melts, it risks exposing humans to all kinds of deadly diseases.

The Arctic permafrost also contains massive amounts of mercury.

Continued melting will see it released into the ocean, contaminating fish stocks.

And that’s not all.

Permafrost thawing has the potential to release vast amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, accelerating global warming even further.

And there is a kind of real feedback going on here. So the warming that’s happening in the globe is affecting the Arctic disproportionately. So that’s warming more than the other parts of the world. And in terms of that impact, that Arctic warming is having a return effect on the world as a whole, because it’s affecting that, that air conditioning, that global cooling system.

So how concerned about all of this should we be?

We are kind of very right to be concerned. These changes are absolutely unprecedented, and there’s no doubt that they are being caused by human activity as well as the natural processes, but the human activity is of overriding importance.

You don’t need to convince many Arctic communities.

Entire Alaska Native villages are considering moving, in the face of eroding coastlines.

Their food supply has also been radically impacted.

“Nowadays, we have more and more new species which have come further north, and gone to the Arctic Ocean. People are wondering where the normal species are. They are not any more existing.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted some research projects in the region, but climate scientists say the evidence is already clear.

We can’t keep waiting for more bad news before taking definitive action on climate change.

The Arctic is a prime example of where climate change, the real significant impact of climate changes is being felt. Sometimes we think about climate change as a very incremental process. When you go to the Arctic, you can see the dramatic changes that climate change is causing, that human-induced climate change is causing. You can see collapsed glaciers, you can see areas of sea that used to have ice on them that don’t anymore. You can see the impact on fish species that are in one place now when they used to be in another. And it’s really affecting people’s lives as they live in the Arctic and in turn, it will really affect our lives in the whole rest of the world.

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