When one hears the term “Global Warming”, different ideas come to mind. Many people associate global warming with high temperatures, industrial revolution, factories, and pollution. Global warming is affecting all regions and areas that are parts of this earth. It makes them warmer and warmer by time (Bo et al., 2009).
What happens to your ice cream in a hot weather? It melts of course. Now imagine the ice cream as a habitat or a region. This scenario would be the frigid region of the earth. I was curious about the effects of this global climatic change on the polar regions of the earth. Polar Regions are located at the North and South Pole of the earth, and they are made up of the polar icecaps.
North Pole and South Pole are also called Arctic region and Antarctic region correspondingly. The percentage of ice thickness in these regions is decreasing with time due to warmer weathers. When these frozen areas melt, they cause many serious changes to the environment (Bo et al., 2009). Thus, this topic has become a controversial issue amongst people.
The meltdown of the South and North poles caused by global warming has negative effects on the Polar Regions to the extent that it destroys ecosystems, leads some animals to extinction, and affects the entire world negatively. Despite the numerous negative effects of global warming on the Polar Regions, it also has some positive effects.
For instance, global warming has led to the emergence of new varieties of vegetation as well as migration of animals into areas that they were once not habiting (Fyfe et al., 2007). Despite this scenario, global warming has led to devastating effects in the Polar Regions leaving the area inhabitable only not for plants and animals, but also for people living in the regions. This paper looks at the effects of global warming in Polar Regions.
Effects of global warming
The impacts of global warming in the Polar Regions are so clear and have severe repercussions that they led to the institution of the International Polar Year. Some of the undertakings during this year included exploring the polar ecosystem to understand how it responded to environmental changes like global warming. From the onset of the industrial revolution, the Polar Regions have witnessed significant environmental changes (Haeberli & Burn, 2002).
The amount of temperature in the region has significantly increased making the regions record high rate of snowmelt ever. Besides, temperature changes have made it hard for some animals and vegetations to thrive in the regions leading to their decline while some are facing extinction.
Global warming has led to destruction of infrastructural facilities in the polar region, especially in the Arctic region. A wide area of the Arctic comprises of a ground covered by permafrost. The permafrost supports the establishment of different infrastructural facilities in the area. For instance, pipelines, roads, and buildings are laid on the permafrost (Smetacek & Nicol, 2005). Increase in temperature in the region is leading to thawing of the permafrost.
In return, most of the infrastructures have ended up twisting, collapsing, and others becoming unstable. It has become difficult for the region to develop due to lack of infrastructural facilities (Hughes, 2000). While some people claim that global warming in Polar Regions will open new areas to economic activities, they do not consider the fact that for economic activities to succeed, they require different infrastructures like roads.
With global warming leading to twisting of most of the roads and pipelines as well as the collapsing of buildings in the area, it would be very hard for any significant economic activity to take place in the region. It would be hard to ship anything from the region due to poor infrastructure.
Another impact of global warming in Polar Regions is the melting of the ice caps. In 2006, scientists claimed that the planet was losing its ice at an alarming rate. A study conducted to ascertain the rate of meltdown in the regions proved that the Antarctic region was losing its ice at a tune of 152km2 per year.
The meltdown is gradually leading to a steady rise in sea level. Along the Arctic region, global warming is leading to a retreat of the ice cover (Ye & Mather, 2007). Currently, the region is losing its ice-cover at a rate that is 18 times more than what it used to lose a decade ago. The rise in see level is gradually leading to displacement of people living along the coastline as the land adjacent to the ocean is swallowed by water.
The meltdown of the Polar Regions leads to changes in vegetation to the level that polar biome is converting to a newly formed ecosystem. “Large areas devoid of any vegetation are revealed from under the ice” (Olech et al., 2011, p.36). This aspect makes some destructive changes to the native animals’ life.
In the Arctic pole, the populations of herbivores, such as reindeers, which are not the local animals of this district, have increased in the past years; as a result, the vegetation of this area has changed and it is leading to an enormous change in the structure of the original tundra.
For example, the population of lichen, a kind of plant in the Arctic area that many polar birds depend on, is decreasing due to the increase in the population of reindeers that feed on those plants. In other words, new plants form when recession of frozen areas takes place (Gunn & Skogland, 2007), which shows how the ecosystem is changing from one nature to another, and it affects the native animals that used to live on the glaciers negatively.
As proven by Kister (2005), “this encroaching change means the elimination of the tundra, and questions the survival of the animals that depend upon that fertile wetland ecosystem” (p.114). The region is becoming a new habitat for the existing animals. It will be hard for the living things to adapt to a different kind of environment which is warmer and lacks ice, and so they will either extinct or migrate to cooler places.
Despite some animals facing extinction or being displaced due to global warming, it is imperative to note that global warming is also leading to the emergence of new species of plants and animals in areas that they did not exist. For instance, the Arctic pole was not popular for animals like reindeers.
However, due to global warming, the area is gradually recording an increase in the population of these animals and a number of other herbivores. The trend means that the region will soon comprise of a variety of animals thus making it a favorite tourist destination (Mendelsohn et al., 2006). The emergence of these herbivores has come due to growth of certain vegetations and changes in temperature.
The main reason why these animals would not survive in the region is that there was no food for them. Hence, their appearance means that the vegetation of the area is gradually changing. In a way, this aspect implies that global warming is leading to the emergence of new varieties of vegetation in the polar region.
The disappearance of the polar ice affects the habitat of the polar bears. They depend on polar ice for their survival and activities. However, global warming threatens the existence of this species since the habitat they depend on is changing slowly with time from one phase to another.
According to Weller and Anderson (2005), “if current melting trend continues, the bears are likely to become extinct in the southern Beaufort Sea region of Alaska, and adjacent Canada” (p.31). The rate of reproduction of the polar bears is low since mother bears give birth to one or two babies and then they stay with their mothers for around 24 months. After that, the mother might give birth again.
According to Kister, “Polar bears have suffered 15 percent decrease in their number of offspring and a similar decline in weight over the past 25 years” (2005, p.57). Moreover, polar bears depend on haunting seals as a source of food (Pedersen, 2012). Since seals are only found on ice, with the elimination of ice, there will be no seals; thus, the polar bears will not find any seals to feed on thus face extinction.
Although the supporters of Arctic melting believe that it has beneficial economic outcomes, these outcomes cannot compare logically to the entire globe that it is damaging. According to Pedersen (2012), the melting of the Polar Regions results in the expanding of business and industrial opportunities.
On the one hand, his suggestion seems reasonable for it makes the shipping between the Northern Canada and Northern Europe easier and less expensive. On the other hand, he does not seem to recognize that the ships used for shipping goods through this area release poisonous gases that pollute the environment even more. The use of ships along these regions will lead to the intensification of global warming effects.
Moreover, Pedersen explains that less ice would lead to increase of gas and oil sources (2012). A great amount of unexploited oil and gas are found in the Arctic region, and the continued meltdown in the region would facilitate in their exploitation. His argument seems to be convincing since these resources fall in the category of beneficial nonrenewable resources.
One of the reasons that have led to oil prices going high across the globe is a reduction in its supply. The majority of the countries that were major oil producers are gradually exhausting their oil deposits, and this scenario is calling for new explorations to ensure that the world does not plunge into an oil crisis, which might lead to economic activities coming to a halt.
With a lot of oil lying in the Arctic region, global warming will facilitate in its exploitation (Weller & Anderson, 2005). Explorers will have an easier access to the continental shelves in the region therefore drilling the oil in the region. Besides oil exploration, global warming will significantly open fishing activities along the Polar Regions.
For decades, snow has covered the greater part of the sea along the poles. Global warming is leading to the meltdown of this snow making it possible for fish to survive in the region. If this trend continues, the fishing industry will have an opportunity to exploit the region.
Global warming is lead to some fish species that could not thrive in the polar region swimming to the region and multiplying there thus opening the region to fishing activities. Nevertheless, one should note that some fish species thrive in the polar region. Global warming in this region is having adverse effects on these fish species.
The fish species are being compelled to relocate and look for areas with stable temperatures or acclimatize with the new temperatures (Rothrock et al., 2007). This aspect implies that in spite of the region being open to fishing, the activity will not be productive, as it will only have limited supply of fish.
Global warming might facilitate in oil exploration along the Polar Regions, which would have significant benefits to the global economy. Nevertheless, we have to remember that despite the benefits of oil exploration, the process will have immense adverse effects on the region.
The machines used in the exploration and drilling process will lead to air and noise pollution in the area thus affecting the animals and plants in the region. As proven by World Wildlife Fund (2012), “Infrastructure for these development projects can destroy habitat, fragment migration routes, and drain freshwater resources.
Besides, in case an oil spillage occurs in the region, it would lead to the destruction of Arctic wildlife, which could take numerous years to restore” (par. 4). Oil spillage can have devastating effects on the ocean life as witnessed during the incidence that occurred along the Gulf of Mexico. In case of such an incidence, the world would have to use a lot of money and other resources in an attempt to clean the coastline and restore its ecosystem.
This scenario would imply that all the money gotten from the oil would go back to cleaning the region. Rather than taking advantage of the current meltdown in the Arctic region to drill oil, which might later cost us heavily, it would be appropriate to look for ways to stop the meltdown and restore the ecosystem.
The polar ice is melting rapidly by time. It is affecting the Polar Regions in terms of plants and vegetation. Now, after reading the article, imagine the ice cream again. How will the melting of a whole nation be? Everything that was once naturally frozen is now melting day after day due to the global warming (Stringer, 2005).
Imagine a world without ice. What will it be like? Animals that are adapted to Polar Regions are now about to become extinct for their homes are disappearing. Global warming is leading to a reduction of ice in the Polar Regions. In return, the reduction is affecting the breeding course of various animals in the region (Madin, 2008). For instance, walrus pup and seal take advantage of the ice condition to wean and bring up their newborns.
Poor ice conditions due to global warming is making it hard for these animals to wean their newborns properly, which leads to the death of a majority of the same. If the trend continues, these animals will suffer extinction since they do not multiply. In return, polar bears will also face extinction since they depend on these animals for food (Stirling & Derocher, 2008).
Global warming in the Polar Regions does not only affect plants and animals. It also affects people living in the region. Global warming alters freeze-thaw line in both space and time. Consequently, it leads to significant effects not only to biological and physical systems but also to the human system (Everett & Fitzharris, 2003).
The aboriginal people living in the Arctic region depend on the stable running of the ecosystem and natural resources in the region. The Yupik and other communities have already experienced the wrath of global warming. According to the communities, global warming has altered the process of sea ice formation and led to early melting thus affecting the hunting season. Due to global warming, whales, seals, polar bears, and walrus have changed their migration and feeding trends.
It has become hard for the native people to predict when and the route that these animals will use during their migration (Xu et al., 2007). Hence, it has become hard for them to arrange for hunting expeditions. Global warming has made it hard for the aboriginals in the Arctic region to acquire food leading to most of them suffering from starvation.
Apart from starvation, it has become hard for people in the region to preserve their food for use during the dry season. Normally, the aboriginals amass a lot of food during the dry season (summer and spring) and preserve some for use during the wet season (autumn and winter).
Today, global warming is responsible for the increase in the rate of precipitation during the dry season (Oppenheimer, 2006). Arctic region experiences heavy rain, cloudy skies and fog during the summer and spring. It becomes hard for people to air-dry their traditional food for preservation. Most of the food they amass during the dry season goes into waste making them suffer during the wet seasons when there is a food shortage.
Global warming has more devastating effects than benefits to the Polar Regions. It leads to increase in temperature, which in return damages infrastructural facilities due to thawing of permafrost. Even though global warming might facilitate in the exploitation of oil and gas in the region, it would be very hard to transport the oil and gas due to poor infrastructure.
Besides, the exploitation process would intensify the global warming in the area. Currently, it is hard to predict the environmental conditions in the Polar Regions.
Today, high rainfall, cloudy sky, and fog characterize the dry season. Indigenous people in the region find it hard to dry their food. Besides food preservation, global warming has altered the migration and feeding trend of various animals in the region, which has led to the aboriginals encountering difficulties in hunting.
Moreover, global warming has led to the reduction in the number of animals in the polar region. Animals are unable to wean their newborns due to increase in temperature and a reduction in the food supply. The meltdown of permafrost due to increase in temperature caused by global warming has led to increase of methane gas in the atmosphere.
In return, the gas has led to the accumulation of temperature on the surface of the earth leading to plants that survive in low temperature dying. With all these negative effects of global warming in the polar region, one may ask if it is worth going on with the industrial revolution in these regions. Industries are a major cause of global warming. Establishing industries in the region would imply intensifying the effects of global warming.
Bo, J., Hall, A., & Qu, X. (2009). September sea-ice cover in the Arctic Ocean projected to vanish by 2100. Nature Geoscience, 2(5), 341-42.
Everett, J., & Fitzharris, B. (2003). The Arctic and Antarctic: The regional impacts of climate change: An assessment of vulnerability. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Fyfe, J., Boer, G., & Flato, G. (2007). The Arctic and Antarctic oscillations and their projected changes under global warming. Geophysical Research Letters, 26(11), 1601-1604.
Gunn, A., & Skogland, T. (2007). Responses of caribou and reindeer to global warming. Ecological Studies, 124, 189-200.
Haeberli, W., & Burn, C. (2002). Natural hazards in forests: Glacier and permafrost effects as related to climate change. Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing.
Hughes, L. (2000). Biological consequences of global warming: Is the signal already apparent? Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 15(2), 56-61.
Kister, C. (2005). Arctic melting. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.
Madin, K. (2008). Melting arctic ice threatens polar bears’ survival. Oceanus, 46(2), 30-31.
Mendelsohn, R., Nordhaus, W., & Shaw, D. (2006). The impact of global warming on agriculture: A Ricardian analysis. The American Economic Review, 84(4), 753-771.
Olech, M., Wegrzyn, M., Lisowska, M., Slaby, A., & Angiel, P. (2011). Contemporary changes in vegetation of Polar Regions. Papers on Global Change IGBP, 18(1), 35-51.
Oppenheimer, M. (2006). Global warming and stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Nature, 393, 325-330.
Pedersen, S. (2012). Record high arctic melt indicates global warming is speeding up. Retrieved 29 Dec. 2012, from http://www.theinternational.org
Rothrock, A., Yu, Y., & Mayhut, G. (2007). Thinning of the Arctic sea-ice cover. Geophysical Research Letters, 26(23), 3469-3472.
Smetacek, V., & Nicol, S. (2005). Polar ocean ecosystems in a changing world. Nature, 437, 362-368.
Stirling, I., & Derocher, A. (2008). Possible impacts of climatic warming on polar bears. Arctic, 46(3), 240-245.
Stringer, J. (2005). Meltdown at the arctic. The Times Educational Supplement, 32(4652), 8-15.
Weller, G., & Anderson, P. (2005). Implications of global change in Alaska and the Bering Sea Region. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska Fairbanks.
World Wildlife Fund. (2012). Polar Regions. Retrieved 29 Dec. 2012, from http://worldwildlife.org/habitats/polar-regions
Xu, J., Wang, G., & Zhang, B. (2007). Climate change comparison between Arctic and other areas in the Northern Hemisphere since the last Interstade. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 17(1), 43–50.
Ye, H., & Mather, J. (2007). Polar snow cover changes and global warming. International Journal of Climatology, 17(2), 155-162.