Saturday, 9 January 2016

What does the future hold?

I never would have thought that within a space of three months my opinion to a topic could be so drastically altered. At the start of these posts, I was like many of you, concerned about the future consequences of greenhouse gas emissions of the rate of the melting world, but only events such as COP21 and my own investigation on certain topics has highlighted the exact rate which we are currently facing. I believe that if something isn't done which will drastically reduce the amount of atmospheric CO2, glaciers will be a feature of the past within 100 years. Likewise can be said to Greenland and Antarctic but on a longer time scale. Having spent months researching glaciers and Arctic environments, I cannot express how they truly are wonders of the world, and the thought that they may dissapear knowing that future generations may never get to experience what I have somewhat upsets me.

An increasingly common issue seen in alpine regions. Photo taken during my dissertation at the snout of the Findel glacier.

We are entering into an era where the rate of CO2 emissions far exceeds that of any paleo record. The issue with this is that the rate and intensity of the climate feedbacks may have further drastic impacts including sea level rise, population displacement, and loss of cultural heritage to name a few. I believe it is now up to us to try and save the melting world. Yes we are in a current interglacial, so naturally the ice will melt, but not at the rates we are seeing today. Lets try and preserve these landscapes for as long as possible before the picture above becomes far too regular. Ways on how to slow this down? well I believe for most of the alpine glaciers it is too late. If we want to save what remains, including the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, we need to stop the current rate of emissions now, with potential for further geoengineering, yet further investigation is still needed before we engineer our planet any further than we currently have.

So I leave you with the photo below, what I believe really sums up the current state of glacial environments, beautiful, unstable and retreating. Hopefully future generations will get to experience the same as what I luckily have!

The current retreating snout of the Findel Glacier, taken during my dissertation in the Swiss Alps.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

A Freak Heatwave Has Struck The North Pole!

I saw this article on social media today (link found here) which has shown that the temperature at the North Pole hit a record high this year reaching 0 degrees Celsius, tinkering on the edge of the melting point. The cause of this is due to two reasons: 1) a low pressure mass which has moved through the U.S. and Europe and a high pressure mass around Siberia, and 2) harsh winter cyclones over the North Atlantic. As people who reside in the UK, this winter has be far from cold, along with wave after wave of devastating storms, storm Frank being the latest. The combination of the two reasons mentioned has meant warm air has been drawn up through southern Europe and Africa into higher latitudes causing warmer conditions. It is not only the North Pole which has noticed warmer temperatures, but the Alps have seen one of the driest and mildest seasons on record leading to poor snow conditions and glacial melt throughout the winter months.

Drastic Arctic melt is expected to continue if conditions don't change. Photo source

Now is this a sign of global warming, or just a sign of atmospheric instability and natural variability? Personally I believe its a combination of both, with average Arctic temperatures increasing (my last two blog posts), and in general, northern hemisphere ice masses retreating. On top of this, the weather systems the UK and the U.S. have been struck by is uncertain whether this is natural variability or the cause of climate change, we may know in the near future if these events continue.

Monday, 4 January 2016

The unreported impact on local indigenous tribes

It has been somewhat neglected in science and in political climate talks, including COP21, of the impact climate change is having on indigenous tribes in both polar and alpine environments. The tribes rely on the ice as both a source of fresh water and in polar regions, a platform for hunting. So what regions are being hit the hardest in regards to indigenous tribe daily life?

"Change has come to the Arctic", Article and source by Jess Worth 

The UN are one of the only bodies which acknowledge the impacts of the melting world on impacting indigenous people. In a report titled "Climate Change and Indigenous People" issues were highlighted with the melting world on impacting daily norms which are becoming increasingly difficult. The summary of impacts is as followed:

  • In the high attitudinal Himalayas, fresh water has shown a decrease over the long run, with rapid abrupt increase on the short term due to rapid glacial and snow melt during the summer months. This posses a threat of water insecurity in the near future. Furthermore, if glaciers fully retreat, large volumes of available freshwater will be removed, forcing tribes to relocate into manageable regions.
  • Indigenous people in the high Arctic rely on the ice to hunt, a major source of income and food. As mentioned in my last post, the Arctic sea ice extent fell in 2014 into the sixth lowest ice mass ever recorded in the instrumental record. This ultimately means that both polar bears and seals which use the ice as shelter and as a hunting ground will no longer be accessible to sea ice hunters when the ice has retreated. Transport links through sledges are already being seen to break up sooner in the year with melt water blocking passages across the ice.
  • In high Scandinavia, tribes rely on cold winter temperatures to allow moss and lichen to grow for the reindeer's to eat. Without these colder winter temperatures, the reindeer livestock is expected to plummet, again a major source of food and economic income for the tribes.
The sad issue that encompasses this topic is that the indigenous tribes contribute the least to global climate change, yet are at the forefront of battling the effects of it without the technology to fight against it. If rates of global warming do not slow over the coming centuries, a large part of global culture will be lost. Little is currently being done to prevent this, and its only a matter of time until the indigenous tribes of the cryosphere will have to relocate.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Antarctic: Is the ice growing back?

The year of 2014 baffled the science community. It is expected that with the warming planet due to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions, the cryosphere will ultimately pay the price. It has been seen in the extent of the Arctic sea ice agrees with this statement, with the summer extent of 2014 falling into the 10 lowest extents ever recorded in the instrumental record, but what got the scientists baffled then? Surprisingly, the Antarctic ice extent was the largest ever recorded in 2014. The sea ice extent of Antarctica reached a staggering 7.72 million square miles, with the Arctic sea ice only reaching 1.94 million square miles. So what's going on then?

Image source: NASA

Well its quite understandable for not only the climate sceptics but for the general public to assume that if the ice is growing to levels never recorded before that global warming is not occurring, especially if the data is provided by a reputable source such as NASA. During 2014 it was unknown what was causing this (See video below), but today, it is thought to be the cause of global warming! Surprising though it may seem, the global warming is the cause of the sea ice growth in the Antarctic. As many people know, the Antarctic consists of both land ice up to 3km thick and an abundance of sea ice which surrounds the land. Due to the increase of global temperatures, the terrestrial ice has begun to melt, increasing the amount of freshwater flushed into the southern ocean. The large amount of freshwater added into the ocean system has meant that the salinity of the regional sea has decreased, and thus, chemistry 101, water with lower salinity freezes more readily and at warmer temperatures. This extent of the sea ice is not showing that global warming is not occurring, but in fact, its showing a sign that global warming in the high southern latitudes is having a greater effect of terrestrial melt than ever recorded.  

The video below is provided by NASA. The video was released in 2014 so the understanding of why this was occurring was not understood. the video does highlight the importance of monitoring the sea ice of both poles.

However, could this actually slow the effects of global warming by increasing the albedo? That is something we will have to monitor in the coming years.