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The Antarctic Meltdown

It has been 200 years since a terra incognita-Antarctica-was discovered in 1820, by a British expedition led by Irishman Edward Bransfield[1]. With continuation in analysis, research, and investigation, scientists found out that the Antarctic snow was already melting (although not at a pace as fast as today) as the continental area was found out to be less than what they had calculated. With global warming and climate change, the ice has been melting at an accelerated rate, causing sea-levels to rise.

THE CRISIS OF OUR TIME
The population of the earth has increased at an exponential rate within the last decade, and we have been consuming more products derived from animals. We’ve been burning more and more coal to power our homes, factories, airplanes, cars, and so on. All of these activities release various pollutants into the air that trap the heat in our surroundings and raise its temperature, causing global warming. Global warming further gives birth to the crisis of our time, climate change, which is the chief cause of the melting of ice in Antarctica. Ocean acidification is yet another important problem linked to rising levels of carbon dioxide, contributing to a rise in global temperatures.

”We are running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.” -Elon Musk

IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON ANTARCTICA
Climate change will critically affect the South Pole, inducing it to lose its ice at a rapid speed. Carbon emissions would shoot up, the ecosystems would be affected, and wildlife would cease to exist. The rate of ice loss has tripled since 2012 [2] compared to ice losses from the previous 20 years. Whole, big glaciers change their shapes within weeks, as a consequence of the rise in temperatures, and become almost irreconcilable to the scientists and researchers operating there.

Antarctica comprises two geologically distinct areas, East Antarctica and West Antarctica, separated by huge mountains and connected through ice sheets. The presence of the huge ice sheet and therefore the polar location of the continent makes it a powerful conductor of heat that strongly affects the climate of the entire earth. The Antarctic ice sheet is 1 mile (1.6 kilometres) thick, and 5.4 million square miles of land [3] . The breakup of the Antarctic ice sheet adds to sea-level rise, impacting communities around the world, while recent research [4] revealed the connection between Antarctic ice, ocean circulation patterns, and the risk of more frequent extreme events. On top of all that, the melting ice adds 3 millimetres[5] of seawater annually to the oceans, as seawater expands when temperatures get warmer. Besides, the rise is occurring at a faster rate in recent years.

Melting just nearly a France-sized glacier in East Antarctica, called Totten, would unleash almost the maximum water level rise as melting the whole West Antarctic Ice Sheet [6] . In Western Antarctica, the ice won’t last very long. It’s vulnerable as most of it sits on a bedrock that’s below water-level. As the ocean warms, it melts the floating ice from below, causing it to fall apart. Since 1992, it’s averaged a net loss of 65 million metric tons of ice a year [7] . The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the three areas of the world that are currently experiencing rapid regional climate change, the other two being north-western North America and a neighbourhood centred on central Siberia.

A record high temperature (highest in the history of the continent) of 20.75 degrees Celsius, has been reported on the continent of Antarctica in February 2020 [8] , on an island off the coast of the peninsula. Scientists warn that global warming is causing so much melting at the South Pole, it will eventually disintegrate- causing the worldwide water-level to rise by 3 meters (10 feet) [9] over centuries.

Consequently, the snow in some areas of the continent is turning bright shades of green, caused by microscopic algal bloom [10] . The bloom covers a remarkably large area, and it can even be observed by satellites. Over and above that, the climate crisis is taking a toll on Antarctica’s wildlife. Ice-dependent species, such as seals, Adélie penguins, and Mink whales [11] , would be the most affected by this change. Also, low-range species, such as the fish, the orange notothen, and a variety of invertebrates from some of the Sub-Antarctic Islands, are especially at risk to changes in physical conditions and displacement. Along with that, Antarctica’s Emperor penguins could be in real difficulty come 2100, if the climate warms as expected. Experts[12] say the birds raise their young-ones on sea-ice and if this platform is greatly curtailed, as the models project, then it’s likely to put the animals’ numbers into an exorbitant decline.

WHAT IF ALL OF ANTARCTICA’S ICE MELTS?
If all of Antarctica’s ice melted, the global sea-levels would rise by more than 50 meters [13] . Entire coastal cities could be underwater, like Miami in the USA, and Osaka in Japan. Even entire island nations in the Pacific could get submerged underwater. The places left would become uninhabitable, resulting in a decrease in food supplies. It would ruin agriculture and cause a global famine. People who would’ve somehow survived this great debacle will have to face many more challenges in upcoming times. People will suffer from tons of diseases, which would appear as a result of flooding of entire cities. There would be long queues of citizens, at airports and railway stations, waiting to immigrate to safer places, and the governments and related authorities won’t be ready for it. Animals, including sea creatures and polar animals, would face massive extinction, wind patterns would mutate, and there would be dramatic weather changes. We will have no time to evolve to such extreme changes. If we keep adding fuel to the climate change fire, the Earth shall be ice-free within the next 500 years. The world as we know it would collapse.

THE PARIS AGREEMENT
The Paris Agreement [14] , adopted by almost all the nations of the globe in 2015, aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse emissions to limit the worldwide temperature rise before the year 2100 to 2 degree Celsius while pursuing all means to limit the rise to 1.5 degree Celsius. The agreement created a clean framework for all the nations to make emissions reduction commitments and strengthen those moves over time. Its aims also include bringing down the pace at which polar ice caps and ice sheets are melting. However, the USA, one of the world’s biggest polluters, pulled out from the Paris deal. Russia and China are also accused of not setting progressive targets in the first place. Contrariwise, India, Morocco, and The Gambia are undertaking huge projects and reaching their designated targets.

CONCLUSION

Though Antarctica appears to be so far away, human activities being performed on the continents separated by huge oceans are affecting its land, waters, and wildlife. While the rapid rate of climate change is caused by us, we are also the ones who can combat it. In order to combat that we have to change the system that has allowed it to happen. And everyone could do that by shifting to renewable sources of energy, reducing the use of cars, using more cycles and public transport, eat less meat, and consume quite rationally. Businesses and politics as usual have got to change. We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.

“Your house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour” – Greta Thunberg

Under the aegis of climate change, Antarctica would be the one to transform the most. The science is, however, clear: global climate change is already negatively impacting Antarctica. Scientists don’t know for sure what the aftermaths of global warming would be, but we should be prepared for the worst because all our wrong-doings are leading to the worst.

By Vanshika Arora
Senior Secondary Student, Arwachin International School (AIS), Dilshad Garden, Delhi


References:
[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Antarctica#:~:text=Three%20days%20later%2C%20on%2030,Antarctica%20on%2017%20November%201820.[2] https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/04/5-visible-signs-climate-change-antarctica[3] https://insh.world/geo/antarctica-10-facts-didnt-know/[4] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-0889-9#Sec8[5] https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/start-here/2019/12/climate-change-191201113702813.html[6] https://www.discovermagazine.com/environment/climate-changes-effect-on-east-antarctica-may-be-more-significant-than[7] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2013/09/rising-seas-ice-melt-new-shoreline-maps/[8] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51500692[9]https://www.bbc.com/news/world51420681#:~:text=A%20record%20high%20temperature%20of,17.5C%2C%20in%20March%202015.[10] https://www.cnet.com/news/antarcticas-weird-bright-green-snow-set-to-spread-as-a-result-of-climate-change/[11] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2019/10/25/climate-change-could-threaten-many-antarctic-marine-species[12] https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-49978007#:~:text=Antarctica’s%20Emperor%20penguins%20could%20be,animals’%20numbers%20into%20steep%20decline.[13] https://time.com/5669021/antarctica-ice-melt-sea-level-rise/[14] https://www.nrdc.org/stories/paris-climate-agreement-everything-you-need-know
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