Melting Ice Caps
Updated: Apr 25
The issue with melting glaciers and sea ice in the poles shouldn’t be anything new; we as a civilisation have stood idly by watching the ice caps melt away as, over centuries, we have kept pumping our air with greenhouse gases. Climate change is very much real and very much something we all understand at this point. People of every age are standing up against powerful companies to try and make a change before there is no way to get our earth back to the way it was. Therefore, the question of WHY the ice caps are disappearing shouldn’t be a surprising one either. But, I’ll give you a refresher anyways.
The distinction between sea ice and glaciers can be made through their differing roots of formation. Whilst sea ice is formed on the surface of the ocean, glaciers are formed on land, on mountains and on large blocks of land near mountains. Icebergs are categorised as glacial ice that breaks off and falls into the ocean, thus differing from sea ice which often creates sheets of ice over the ocean surface.
These ice caps have a significant role in the natural cycle of the Earth’s circulation of temperature. The ice acts as a shield over the Earth’s oceans as the bright sheen reflects excess UV radiation from the sun back into space, thus keeping the oceans at a consistently cool temperature. It is believed that, in theory, the Arctic remains cooler than the equator because of this shield-like reflection of excess heat.
This natural cycle has however been greatly disrupted by man-powered industrial actions which cause an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, ultimately heating up the Earth more than it can handle. Although the ice can reflect excess heat from the sun’s UV radiation, this added heat from fossil fuel burning and other processes is causing the ice caps to melt rather than reflect the heat. As the glaciers melt, the water stored within the mountains runs off into the ocean, consequently causing global sea levels to rise.
Due to the introduction of Industrialisation in the 1900s through the multiple phases of the Industrial Revolution, many glaciers have been melting at a much more rapid rate as they are unable to manage the influx of heat that is being trapped within the earth’s atmosphere. Since the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have raised global sea temperatures, especially in the North and South poles, causing glaciers to melt and land borders to retreat.
Statistics show that even if we try to decrease our emissions in the following decades, more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers will melt before the year 2100 as, when it comes to sea ice, 95% of the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic is already gone! (WWF)
The melting of the ice caps not only raises global sea levels and temperatures but also increases coastal erosion as the warmer surface and air temperatures create more intense and frequent coastal storms. This is caused by the interaction of warm air and warm seawater that forms storms over the ocean and, once seawater is hot enough, it gives storms strength. This, combined with the Earth’s rotation, causes hurricanes and typhoons.
The melting of the ice caps has a great impact on communities closer to the Arctic as they rely on glaciers for water, power and food during the drier seasons. These rapidly melting glaciers mean that more and more people are being forced to find alternative sources of water supply or face severe hunger and dehydration. The rapid melting can be seen in the South Col glacier of Mount Everest where the glacier has lost 10 years' worth of ice accumulation in just one year and is on track to disappear within 30 years! (Prof. Mayewski Climate Change Institute, University of Maine)
Whilst all that I have said may make it seem like there is nothing we could possibly do to fix this, there is still plenty we can do as a community to curb the level of greenhouse emissions we produce. As individuals, we can make small changes to our use of electricity and gas like participating in Earth Hour every year. As a community, we can help advocate against companies that are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions. And as democratic citizens, we can be mindful of who and what we are voting for to ensure a safe future for all.