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Breaking the Ice: The Polar Ice Cap Crisis

breaking ice as the water heats up, loss of over 90% of some icebergs

Global warming has always been a major issue that has affected multiple different ecosystems across the world. However, one of the most damaging effects that global warming has caused is the loss of the polar ice caps and other arctic ice.

We are losing Arctic sea ice at an intense, fast rate-almost 13% per decade. What is more alarming than this figure, however, is the fact that over the past 30 years, the ice has decreased in size by 95%. Whilst yes, there are still thousands of feet of ice sheets covering the water, the fact that it has decreased this much is incredibly alarming. It's estimated that if things keep up this way then the arctic will be ice-free by summer 2040- and whilst this seems far away, it's only 18 years. It's easy for us to think that things are okay as they are now because we don't feel a direct change in our seas and our own lives, but this affects us much more than most people know.

Sea Levels are Rising

Ice melting creates more water- therefore it's going to make the sea levels rise. This is a massive risk to any coastal communities since the water levels have risen by about 7-8 inches since the 1900s. This seems like a small number, but rising sea levels present a number of issues.

One of the main risks is the impact it'll have on our drinking water. As the sea rises, it'll crawl further and further up onto the shoreline, eventually seeping into freshwater sources that many coastal towns use for drinking water. I don't think I need to explain why this is an issue- saltwater is completely undrinkable and if anything, will just make you thirstier. Many larger coastal towns are investing in expensive desalination plants, but these are unrealistic for smaller communities. This also has a further impact on farming within these communities- saltwater can't be used for agriculture, it'll stunt the crops or even kill them. Creating freshwater from saltwater is a lengthy and costly solution to this ever-growing problem.

It's not only our homes and ecosystems we need to worry about, rising sea levels will affect sea life as well. Any creatures that make their homes in shallow rock pools or nestled in the sand will be eradicated when the water rises and floods the plant life they survive on. It will also impact nesting birds that make their homes in the rocks around the sea, as the water will erode the cliffsides as it crashes against them, leaving the birds with nowhere to make their homes. Another animal affected will be turtles- they make their nests on the shoreline, and the eggs are extremely fragile. Turtles are endangered, so they really can't afford to their any of their offspring- they lose enough when they are born and travel back into the sea again.

Permafrost is thawing

Permafrost is defined as any ground that has been completely frozen for more than two years straight. This environment is normally found in places with high mountains and near the earth's higher latitudes- the north and south poles. It's a combination of rocks, soil, mud and sand that's all being held together by ice. This will stay frozen all year long.

The concerns with permafrost thawing and breaking away from itself are immense. One of the biggest risks is what may happen to the people living on the active land above the permafrost. There aren't always people living in these areas, but if the permafrost thaws out, then they'll lose their homes. When permafrost is completely frozen, it's as hard as concrete and can't be easily broken- but melt it even slightly and it'll collapse in on itself, with disastrous consequences. Roads, homes and other structures will be destroyed completely.

Since most permafrost has been around for hundreds of years, there are organisms frozen in that ice that are extinct and have been for a very long time. The melting of permafrost and the thawing of these organisms (bacteria and viruses) could cause serious detriment to the human race, as our bodies aren't built for these viruses. Scientists have discovered microbes frozen in permafrost from 400,000 years ago- a staggering time for this frost to have been around.

Not only this, but this melting will only create a vicious cycle. When the permafrost melts, it releases methane and other greenhouse gases into the air, therefore continuing to heat the climate- starting the whole thing over again.

What can I do to help?

There are so many small things that you can do to help prevent the melting of the ice caps. It can start with something as simple as making sure to turn off your lights when you leave a room, or not having too many devices plugged in.

A super-easy way for you to help prevent global warming is to swap your energy sources from ones producing energy with gas or fossil fuels to ones producing energy with wind or solar panels. This not only is much more sustainable, but it's an energy source that's guaranteed to last. Eventually, we will run out of fossil fuels, but we can never run out of sunshine and wind power.

Climate change has, and always will be, a massive global issue. It's something that every single one of us can do something about. It doesn't have to be a grand gesture, it could just be walking to the local shop instead of making the 5-minute drive. Catch the bus into town with all the other commuters- it won't hurt!

People often think that this is a problem that isn't affecting them whatsoever and that the ice still has many years to go before it's all gone- but that isn't the case at all. Global warming IS killing the planet, but it isn't too late for us to make that change and do better for mother earth.


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