The world has recently received dire warnings about the deteriorating health of our planet from two of its most fragile and critical ecosystems, the Arctic in the north and the Antarctica in the South. For India, with its extensive coastline, the implications are enormous.
The Arctic Ocean has experienced the warmest winter this year since temperature records began to be compiled. There has been an extraordinary 20-degree deviation above what temperature levels should have been at this time of the year. Satellite images have also revealed that sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is at the lowest extent ever recorded. It comes as a culmination of a steady warming of the Arctic over the past half a century, resulting in a 75% loss of its ice cover.
In the Antarctica, there had been complacency because the loss of the thick ice cover over the southern continent had been minimal in recent years. The loss of some ice-shelves located at the coast, had been made up by increased accumulation in other parts of the continent. However, it has been reported that a massive ice-shelf in the western part of the continent, known as Larsen C, may be about to detach itself from the thick mass of ice covering the continent, and float away into the ocean as a gigantic iceberg. Larsen C is part of what was originally a very extensive ice-shelf, parts of which, Larsen A and Larsen B, have already disintegrated and floated away. Larsen A disappeared in 1995 and Larsen B in 2002. But Larsen C is by far the largest shelf in this part of the Antarctica.
Implication on India:
- Ice-loss from this part of West Antarctica is already making a significant contribution to global sea-level rise and is actually one of the largest uncertainties in global sea-level prediction. The Arctic and the Antarctic are different eco-systems but both are very fragile. The Arctic is an ocean, enclosed by land, constituted by territories belonging to the US, Canada, Russia, Greenland, Norway and Denmark. The Antarctica is an ice-covered land-mass of continental proportions, which is surrounded by deep ocean. The melting of ice, floating in the Arctic Ocean, will not add to net sea-level rise, but the mass of ice covering the Antarctica and Greenland (in the Arctic region), would add to the volume of water in the world’s oceans and lead to significant sea-level rise.
- But sea-level rise is not the only consequence to worry about due to the steady loss of the polar ice-caps. For example, the thick ice-cover over the Antarctica and over Greenland will release a huge amount of methane which lies trapped in the frozen bio-mass below the ice. The same is true of the perma-frost that covers the northern zones of Arctic littoral. Methane is a much more powerful climate change-forcing agent than carbon dioxide (CO2) is, though it stays in the atmosphere for a shorter time than CO2. The release of methane will lead to a significant spike in global warming.
- Another change relates to what is known as the albedo effect. The mass of white ice, both in the Arctic and the Antarctica, reflects back the rays of sun reducing the warming of temperatures. With its melting, much more of the heat from the sun will be absorbed by the oceans and the landmass, which will exacerbate global warming.
climatic conditions and oceanic wave movements in the polar regions have a significant effect on weather patterns around the world, including the monsoons in our subcontinent.
Against this background, it is imperative that leaders across the world shed their complacency and recognise and respond to what is a planetary emergency.