Global warming is the general increase in average temperature globally over a period of time. This can have an effect on the arctic in a multitude of social, political and environmental ways For example, the Arctic Circle is home to over 150,000 Inuit’s, whose primary food source is fish and seals. As a result of global warming, arctic ice has receded greatly over the last 10 years, destroying seal hunting grounds, and so limiting access to Inuit food supply.
Also, the melting of glaciers into the arctic waters is causing less fish to occupy the now fresh waters, causing polar bear and seal numbers to dwindle as there food source disappears. Such an impact to the Inuit food supply and main source of income would mean that communities would have to import food instead of hunting it, which would be incredibly expensive (up to USD$ 1 million per year) due to their high protein requirements to help them cope with the harsh environment. Another environmental impact is the negative feedback mechanism that artic ice withdrawal creates.
Arctic ice has a high albedo, meaning it reflects a lot of solar radiation back into space. However, the sea and rock have a low albedo, meaning these areas are warmer. As a result of the ice melting, the general albedo of the arctic is lowering, which in turn causes an increase in average temperature, and therefore increases ice melting even more, and so on. This negative feedback mechanism will also further greenhouse gas emissions by the thawing of permafrost. Beneath the permafrost found on arctic tundra, are thousands of gallons of methane, trapped there for thousands of years.
As this permafrost begins to melt, the methane will be released, increasing the temperature and creating a similar feedback mechanism to the albedo effect stated above. Further so, the warming of the arctic means that the “tree line” (the line at which most forests such as coniferous forests, stop growing) will recede. This withdrawal of the tree line means that habitats for creatures normally found in the northern parts of Russia and Greenland (or other arctic regions) will begin to inhabit further into the arctic, putting pressure on animals currently living in the arctic circle, for example the arctic fox.
The melting of the arctic regions has also uncovered opportunity for oil companies such as BP and shell to start drilling for oil in regions they couldn’t previously drill in (for example the arctic pass). This increase in oil production can only further the greenhouse gas emissions, and spoil natural beauty of the area, and destroy habitats due to incidents such as oil spills (should they occur). Drilling is not the only risk that is imposed, as Russia have also allowed for nuclear waste disposal in there arctic territory, poisoning habitats and killing wildlife.
Courtney from Study Moose
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