Yes, the polar ice caps melting is happening in a very high speed. About half of the existing glaciers on Earth will cease to exist by the end of the century, according to a study published in the journal Science. Climate change and rising temperatures are largely responsible for this.
Why are ice caps melting?
The polar ice caps are melting because there is an imbalance in temperature, which we call global warming.
In short, there is an ozone layer in our atmosphere. This layer prevents the sun’s heat from reaching the Earth’s surface with full force – allowing life on the planet.
However, we have some gases in our atmosphere that have a superpower: they can trap heat within themselves.
Did you know that you can burn yourself with water vapor? This is because of this greenhouse power of water vapor.
Of course we didn’t get into this situation because of water vapor. Another very famous greenhouse gas (GHG) is carbon dioxide, CO2.
In 1800 we discovered the steam engine, which enabled the first Industrial Revolution. Man discovered that if we burned coal at a certain temperature, we could use this steam to generate motion in the machines, making production more efficient.
This was the mainstay of the world economy for the last 200 years. However, the waste product of this process is carbon dioxide, and mankind has released tons and tons of this gas into the atmosphere until then.
The accumulated CO2 is trapping a lot of heat, as is methane, and the amount of these gases available is so large that the temperature of the globe as a whole has increased.
The rest you can imagine, we all know what happens to an ice rock exposed to scorching heat.
When will ice caps melt?
David Holland, atmospheric scientist at New York University, has something not exactly pleasant to say: one of the world’s largest ice structures is crumbling faster than we can act to prevent it – the melting of the “end-of-the-world glacier” is already irreversible, according to the expert.
“End of the World Glacier” is the best known name for the polar cap on the west side of Antarctica, officially referred to as the “Thwaites Glacier”.
It is an immense ice block almost 40 kilometers (km) wide and 24 km deep, within a mountain range of more than 150 km, and which received its nickname precisely because it is a point of high risk of destruction due to the advance of global warming.
A December 2021 University of Colorado-Boulder study said the glacier’s collapse poses “the greatest threat of sea level rise this century,” pointing out that its melting would cause the world’s waters to rise about 65 centimeters (cm) – a catastrophic scenario for many coastal communities.
But the melting of the “end-of-the-world glacier” may do more damage than just raise sea levels.
The ice in the region is made of fresh water, and its contact with the salt water of the oceans can cause severe temperature changes, which in turn will have a negative impact on populations of coastal animals such as penguins and sea lions, as well as fish and other species confined to the sea.
And this scenario is very likely to happen, considering that the glacier has already been breaking up and dumping huge amounts of ice into the sea – either melted or in the form of icebergs.
And the more the glacier is lost, the more the ice it contains within the continent is pushed out into the ocean – in other words, a single event can literally open the door to other situations that will accumulate into more widespread damage.
Polar ice caps melting and sea level rise
According to a new study, if humans continue emitting greenhouse gases at the current rate, global sea levels could rise more than 38 centimeters by 2100 due, also, to ice caps melting.
Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, contribute significantly to climate change and global warming, and are emitted mainly by human activity.
As the Earth warms, the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland melt.
New research by an international team of more than 60 ice, ocean, and atmospheric scientists estimates how much these ice sheets will contribute to rising sea levels.
According to the research, if greenhouse gas emission levels continue at the same rate we see today, the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will increase sea levels by 28 centimeters.
This new study, published in the journal The Cryosphere, is part of the Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project (ISMIP6).
The team projected ocean level growth between 2015 and 2100, exploring a variety of scenarios with different carbon emissions.
According to them, with high emissions extending over that entire period, the melting of Greenland will contribute an extra 9 cm of water in the oceans. With lower emissions, this number drops to 3 cm.
Melting at the South Pole is more difficult to predict; although ice shelves continue to erode on the western side of Antarctica, the eastern side of the continent may gain mass due to increased snowmelt.
Therefore, the variation detected by the team was much greater. According to the researchers, melting Antarctic ice would increase sea level by 30 cm, 18 cm of which would be in the western part of the continent alone.
These results are in line with estimates made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose 2019 Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere showed that melting polar ice caps would contribute to about one-third of global sea level rise.
Are polar bears endangered?
The report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published at the end of 2013, issued a grave warning: by 2040, the frozen layer on the surface of the Arctic Ocean is expected to disappear completely during spring and summer.
In July 2020, the journal Nature Climate Change published a study indicating that polar bears may become extinct by 2100 due to global warming. It is important to explain this cause and effect relationship.
The progressive lack of ice sheets, a frozen layer on the surface of the Arctic Ocean, is making global warming even worse than before.
The ice cover reflects the sun’s rays and thus prevents the absorption of heat by the ocean surface and the rise in sea levels.
Also, the same ice floes of the Arctic Ocean provide the ideal environment for polar bears to hunt their main food: seals. Seal families use the floating ice sheets to give birth and nurse their young, making the perfect environment for seals hunting.
Without it, there’s less ice coverage during summer, less seals available, putting polar bears on the path to becoming extinct animals in the wild.
However, with the progressive loss of ice cover in recent years, the availability of prey has greatly decreased.
Without the ice, there are no seals. And without seals, polar bears stay hungry for far longer periods than they can bear.
Under normal conditions, the ice floes would remain for a period of eight to nine months, when the polar bears would feed and fatten up to be able to withstand the three or four months without floes.
In recent decades, however, this period has extended considerably, and today polar bears face about six months without a banshee.
It has become quite common to spot runts roaming dry lands in search of food.
Tragically, this interval continues to expand and is expected to reach seven or eight months in the next few years. It will be very difficult for bears to last that long without seals.
Aside from the considerable potential increase in attacks on humans for food, this excruciating process will also result in the likely extinction of the polar bear in the wild later this century.
Polar ice caps melting effects on humans
According to experts, the region around the Arctic Ocean is the most affected. In recent years, the ice sheet of this ocean has become about 40 percent thinner and its area has shrunk by 14 percent.
At the other end of the Earth, Antarctica has experienced a 2.5 °C rise in temperature since 1940.
In the period since 1997 alone, 3,000 square kilometers have melted (although there are glaciers that have increased in size because of changes in ocean currents).
The world’s major mountain ranges are also losing mass of ice and snow. According to the Worldwatch Institute, since 1850 the glaciers in the Alps have retreated by 30 to 40 percent.
An article in the British magazine Science from October 2002 states that the snow cover on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania could disappear in the next two decades.
In July 2005, scientists aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise detected that Greenland’s glaciers are melting at a very fast rate.
Global warming is already changing the way of life of people living near the poles as well as the animals that live in these regions.
It is estimated that around 200 million people in coastal regions are likely to suffer from the rising sea levels that occur as a result of the melting ice.
Glaciers melting effects on animals
Temperature increases impact the entire marine food chain. Phytoplankton, for example, which feed small crustaceans, including krill, grow under the sea ice.
A reduction in sea ice means a decrease in krill – which in turn feeds many species of whales, including large ones.
Entire species of marine animals and fish are directly at risk thanks to the rise in temperature; they cannot survive in warmer waters.
Some penguin populations have declined by 33 percent in parts of Antarctica because of declining habitat.