The North Pole is in trouble

The North Pole is in trouble

People scarcely think about the North Pole until this time of year. Celebrities in California have tried to recreate the North Pole by trucking in snow for holiday parties, but the truth is our planet’s cryosphere (ice) is in trouble.

The loss of planetary ice is vividly displayed in James Balog’s documentary, “Chasing Ice.” Someday, the area known as the North Pole may not even exist, both in terms of magnetic location and landscape.

The magnetic poles on both ends of our planet are created by the molten iron core in the center of the planet and are shifting due to geomagnetic pulses in the core. Earth’s magnetic North Pole has been shifting away from Canada toward Siberia.

Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, said the magnetic field is changing rapidly at a rate of about 34 miles a year. This change can cause problems with navigational systems; therefore the systems are calibrated every five years.

While we can’t stop the movement of the magnetic pole locations of the planet, we can do something to mitigate the rapid changes in the landscape.

Each year since 2006 the NOAA has released the Arctic Report Card, which reports on conditions in the Arctic region. The recently released report said the region continues to be “less icy, less reliable and less cold.” Climate change is affecting this area more than any other place on our planet. The 2020 NOAA satellite measurements show summer sea-ice is at the second lowest level in 42 years with 2018 seeing the lowest recorded amount of ice.

The Arctic Sea has two different types of ice: summer ice and older multi-layer ice that is longer-lived. Each summer warmer air temperatures melt much of the thinner ice, and in some places open water becomes visible. Some of this thin ice remains through summer and will form thicker ice for the following year.

The older, thicker ice partially melts in summer as well. As winter approaches, two things happen: The open water will refreeze, and the older ice will add new layers. Some scientists predict by mid-century none of the thinner sea-ice in the Arctic Ocean will survive the summer heat.

We know melting ice is bad for polar bears, but it also is dangerous for narwhal whales, which rely on ice to evade their main predators: killer whales. Seals, like the ringed seal, give birth and raise their young on sea ice. Ivory gull populations near Canada have dropped by 90%.

Researchers blame the loss of sea-ice, the place where these sea birds are known to hunt for fish. Walruses depend on clams found in waters just below the sea-ice along the continental shelves. As the ice edge retreats away from the shelves to deeper areas, there will be no clams nearby. Walruses also normally travel long distances on floating ice, allowing them to feed over a wide area.

Dr. Jim Jordan, a professor I had at Antioch University New England, has been studying climate change in Alaska and neighboring islands for more than 20 years. Most recently, he helped author a research paper on the erosion of shorelines due to ice retreat. In one region along the Alaskan coast, the Chukchi Sea, the sea-ice coverage period has declined 10 days per decade between the years of 1979-2016.

Last winter Jacob Bruggeman wrote in the Cincinnati Enquirer about the damage that occurs when the Great Lakes no longer freeze. He said, “A frozen lake is one that shields its shoreline from wicked wintertime surf, thus helping avert erosion in the winter.”

What happens at the North Pole affects the rest of our planet. Michael Mann, a climatologist and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, compares this region to our home refrigerators. If your fridge fails, there are ramifications. If the earth’s fridge fails, we will see “faster global warming, rising sea levels and more extreme natural disasters.”

Think of our white polar ice caps as white T-shirts on the planet. We all know when we wear white on a sunny day rather than a dark-colored T-shirt, it is cooler. Once the ice melts from the Arctic, the exposed darker water will be able to absorb more solar radiation rather than reflecting it. This means more warming and more ice loss. At the South Pole, where ice is covering a land mass, darker land will be exposed to absorb more solar energy.

In 1996 an intergovernmental panel of Arctic nations, the Arctic Council, was formed. Its task is to evaluate and study this region. The group consists of Finland, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Russia and the U.S. Sadly, during last year’s meeting, the U.S. representative, Mike Pompeo, made his intentions about preserving the region very clear.

“The USA refuses to allow any mention of climate change in the council’s documents.”

Pompeo told the council members the melting ice represents “a magnificent economic opportunity.” He was speaking primarily of new trade routes, but industry leaders also are anxious to access the region’s natural resources.

In 2016 President Obama protected 115 million acres of Arctic Refuge from oil and gas drilling, saying, “These waters make up one of the most magnificent regions on Earth, home to the culture and tradition of our indigenous communities.”

Even though oil prices are low and 12 major banks around the world will not fund any new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge, last month the Trump administration asked oil companies to identify areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain where they would like to secure leases for oil drilling.

This Christmas will be the last one for the current administration. As a final insult to the environmental community, Trump is trying to undo as many environmental protections as possible before leaving office.

When it comes to saving lives and the environment, the current EPA has thrown out their science books and instead adopted a “make money regardless of the environmental costs” policy. The Arctic Region is no exception.

This Christmas Eve, Santa will leave the North Pole to deliver gifts to the world. Given the disregard this administration has shown for the polar regions, it should not surprise the current occupants of the White House when Santa’s sleigh passes them by.

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