When we think of the polar ice caps most often the first image we bring to mind is the world map and the location of the two opposite sides of the Earth. While they can be differentiated from other land forms by their obvious frozen ice, they have been in disappearance over the last decade causing less ice and more water.
The polar ice caps were named because of the location and their distance from the sunrays which are tangential and not enough to keep the land as warm as the sub-Saharan desert. Hence, the polar ice-caps have until now, existed with little to no need for alarm.
Jim Quigley is a faculty director for environmental design policy and planning major at Stony Brook University. He says, while the Arctic is disappearing in astounding proportions everybody including the media are looking at the temporary profit margins from the region instead of addressing pertinent environmental hazards.
Quigley says that there is a positive feedback phenomena occurring. Ecologists and climate scientists have called it thus because ice has a higher reflectivity than water. This means, water being darker, absorbs more heat from the sun and as a result causes the ice to melt. This cycle has been ongoing and will eventually melt away all traces of the Arctic ice cap.
Presently the world is debating climate change, global warming and all its subsidiaries in great length. From documentaries on global warming to campaigns, those who believe that the ice-caps are melting due to rising temperatures are in constant battle with those who say all this is part of the natural ways of the Earth. While many parts of the world are insensitive to the melting Arctic ice, the people actually paying close attention are the money makers—oil companies, mineral investors, real estate tycoons, alternate energy moguls the list is growing every day.
Under the ice lies a fortune of natural earth products that will be a profitable system of revenue should any country invest in digging it up, literally. However, the polar ice cap is open for claims to its surrounding Arctic regions namely, United States (Alaska), Greenland, Denmark, Russia, Norway, Finland and Sweden.
These regions have made progress in the last year to consciously look into long term investment options in constructing oil rigs, drilling for rare earth minerals, uranium, iron-ore, lead, zinc, petroleum and gemstones that are found in Greenland. It is estimated that there is twice the amount of oil in the Arctic- 200 billion barrels more than Kuwait. Scottish firm Cairn Energy was among the initial drillers who discovered oil and gas bearing sands in Greenland. The Royal Dutch Shell Company has also invested into drilling. The Barents Sea between Russia and Norway covers an area of 67,000 square miles called the loophole. There is an estimated 7.6 billion tons of fuel in this region.
Another political and business venture has been China’s keen eye on the melting ice-cap. Currently China’s investment into rare earth minerals has been seen largely in their own regions. China’s strategic relations with Denmark have opened up talks and possibilities to give China an observer status in the Arctic. This means, China will compete to be the first to drill, or find profit. There have been indications of an understanding. Danish exports to China rose 17 percent in 2010. China’s exports to Denmark grew 25 percent according to reports by the Danish embassy in Beijing.
China has a fleet of ice-breakers in construction to navigate the frigid seas. The operational one is the Xuelong. Ice-breakers are ships that help break up large portions of ice for navigation, research, security and maintenance of marine borders. United States of America has invested largely into ice-breakers to maintain protection along the borders and also monitor other neighboring regions for security. Though ice-breakers serve a purpose, they are undoubtedly hastening up the melting of ice bergs and sheets of ice. Adm Thad W Allen from the coast guard commented about the presence of US ice breakers in saying that the Arctic is clearly opening to commerce — and potential conflict and hazards — like never before.
With melting ice the waters become viable for trade. Trade routes will decrease the amount of time spent in traversing the globe to reach northern regions. If sea routes are established directly from Greenland to China, the distance will reduce to one-fourth the total time. Currently the shipping route via the Panama Canal takes over two weeks to traverse. Shipping has a large impact on the global economy and experts predict that this change in routes will affect the economy and open up trade agreement talks between regions.
The largest effect will be natural resource depletion. Oil and gas are finite reserves trapped within the Earth. The melting ice poses imminent risks to drilling. One of the major issues is the lack of sufficient summer months to complete drilling projects. In the event of an oil spill, the extent of damage control is estimated to take up an entire season according to the environment audit committee. Earlier this year, Shell oil seized its exploration and initial drilling attempts after realizing potential oil spill risks. The melting ice also poses a danger of permafrost which increases the level of methane. The positive feedback phenomena also exist with melting permafrost. Methane is a greenhouse gas and highly combustible. With increased melting of permafrost, there will be more methane present in the atmosphere.
The Arctic ice cap is a geographical area that is made up of layers of ice that have formed over the years to create icebergs, glaciers and intermittent frigid waters. BBC wildlife photographer Doug Allen predicts that in five years all of the polar ice caps would have melted away. This region is home to the polar bears, ringed neck seals, walrus, narwhal, hooded seals, ivory gulls and the beluga whales. The ice is a source of life and sustenance for these living creatures. Their species depends on the icy cold waters that bring them food. When ice melts the temperature of the water goes up. This change in water temperature affects marine life thus having a domino effect on all Arctic animals.
With ivory gulls almost close to extinction, the worry among ecologists is the lack of resources to keep the species surviving. Author and ecologist Carl Safina writes about his experience of walking past life-sized bones of whales that had died in his book “The view from Lazy Point.”
One of the worse and irreversible impacts of the melting Arctic ice will be the global change in temperatures. Quigley says with the continuous retreat of ice and the confluence of warm currents from the British Isles there could be a change in the region. This area lies in the same latitude of Siberia and could become as frigid as Siberia. The resulting cold temperatures will impact populations displacing large numbers to other parts of the world. Population displacement will result in a global socio-economic-political uprising.
Quigley says that the Arctic ice not only affects the immediate geographical regions surrounding it, but has a global impact on all ice regions. He says the melting ice in the Himalayas will adversely affect India, causing flooding, displacement among local and indigenous people and economic expenses.
The Arctic ice cap is a juxtaposition of both profit and loss. While the Earth loses a critical land mass home to different types of living creatures, humans inhabit the possible future causing industrialization to re-write the future as money dictates.