What’s Happening in the Arctic, Is Not Staying in the Arctic


Polar Bear on Melting IceTipping Points to Collapse

By Debra Chase

“The metaphor is so obvious. Easter Island isolated in the Pacific Ocean — once the island got into trouble, there was no way they could get free. There was no other people from whom they could get help. In the same way that we on Planet Earth, if we ruin our own [world], we won’t be able to get help.”
Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

As the United States’ 45th President-elect approaches inauguration, he has promised the American public that there will be many changes made to the current levels of environmental protection.  We truly do not know how to predict the promised changes. His statements range from allowing the fossil fuel industry to run rampant on public lands to requiring NASA to focus on space exploration rather than climate change.  One thing is certain, the President-elect’s disbelief that climate change is real and human caused has many scientists very concerned.  One area of great concern is the Arctic and the increase of melting sea ice in the region.

On Friday November 25, 2016 The Arctic Resilience Report was issued along with a stark warning. Changes in the Arctic that include increasingly rapid melting of the ice cap risks triggering runaway greenhouse effect. Runaway greenhouse effect is a term that scientists use to describe runaway climate change or runaway global warming and is hypothesized to follow a “tipping point” in the climate system that could initiate a reinforcing positive feedback. In other words, it won’t stop and there will be nothing that humankind can do to make it stop.

The report describes the potential of triggering not one but 19 tipping points in the region that could have catastrophic consequences around the globe. These tipping points may be “abrupt and unexpected and beyond which return is difficult or unlikely.”

Some of the most notable tipping points are:

  • Increased growth in vegetation on tundra. This darker colored vegetation absorbs more heat, and replaces reflective snow and ice.
  • Methane is being released at a higher rate. Methane (Co4) is a potent greenhouse gas, and as it is released from the tundra it too, warms. Arctic sea ice keeps methane at bay. There have been significant changes to the planets climate in the last 250 years but none more significant than the release of methane gas into the atmosphere. In that time, it has more than doubled and is responsible for about a fifth of global warming.
  • Shifts in snow distribution that warm the ocean, resulting in altered climate patterns as far away as Asia, where the monsoon could be affected.
  • Some of the key Arctic fisheries are collapsing, with knock-on effects on ocean ecosystems around the globe. (A knock-on effect causes other events or situations, but not directly. One such event may be negatively affecting the food and habitat of the Atlantic puffin.)

Noted as the first comprehensive study of ecosystems and societies in the region, The Arctic Resilience Report also found that the “potential effects of Arctic regime shifts [or tipping points] on the rest of the world are substantial, yet poorly understood. Human-driven climate change greatly increases the risk of Arctic regime shifts, so reducing global greenhouse gas emissions is crucial to reducing this risk.”

With effects felt as far away as the Indian Ocean (showing us that “global is now the new local”), climate change is the most pervasive threat to the Arctic region. The report notes other environmental issues that are contributing factors to Arctic sea ice melt. Resource demand, transportation needs, migration, geopolitical changes and globalization are all making great impacts on the Arctic.

The Arctic ice cap is important to all of us, not just to the polar bear and arctic fox.  This rapidly vanishing veneer of ice and snow helps to cool sea and air temperatures and reflects much of the sun’s radiation back into space. It also acts as a global air conditioner when winds and ocean currents swirl over and under it. Long known to play a key part of the global climate system, the region’s sea ice has dramatically declined over the past decade, leading to forecasts of an ice-free Arctic Ocean as early as the 2030s.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), this year, Arctic ice has experienced a drastic melt, shrinking to its second lowest level in recorded history, but the difficulty and expense of close monitoring have meant that scientists have only in recent years been able to make detailed assessments.

“It was a stormy, cloudy, and fairly cool summer,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze in a press release. “Historically, such weather conditions slow down the summer ice loss, but we still got down to essentially a tie for second lowest in the satellite record.” “It really suggests that in the next few years, with more typical warmer conditions, we will see some very dramatic further losses,” added Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist.

“I have often asked myself, “What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?” Like modern loggers, did he shout “Jobs, not trees!”? Or: “Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we’ll find a substitute for wood”? Or: “We don’t have proof that there aren’t palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering”? Similar questions arise for every society that has inadvertently damaged its environment.”
Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed



About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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10 thoughts on “What’s Happening in the Arctic, Is Not Staying in the Arctic”

  1. South of Davis

    Debra wrote:

    > There have been significant changes to the planets climate in the last 250 years

    There has also been an increase in the global population by about 10x in the past 250 years.

    Just like the “climate” in a studio apartment will change when you go from two to twenty residents and the climate in Davis changes when going from under 6K people and trees to over 60K people and trees the climate on the planet will change when we go from under a billion people and livestock to almost 10 billion people and livestock.  Other than a “global culling” there is nothing the new president or our governor can do to change the global climate (making everyone buy different light bulbs, an electric car or reducing cow manure methane won’t do it)…



    1. tribeUSA

      Debra–yes, no question that it is human population growth that underpins most of the ongoing climate change, and will likely continue to warm the climate. However, despite significant ongoing population growth; there are ways in which the impact on the environment can be reduced (but not eliminated); and I fully support implementing existing and finding new ways to better mitigate environmental impact–I also fully support programs that will help to slow down the rate of human population growth; it is likely in the near future that most of the African continent and much of the middle east and India will no longer be able to feed themselves (China has demonstrated that population control policies can be very effective; perhaps a softened set of incentives could also be quite effective).

    1. David Greenwald

      I suggest you google the following: “obama climate change site:davisvanguard.org”

      You have for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense to me derailed several discussions raising this very point. You’ve made your point, if you don’t want to read articles about Trump, then pick the articles that aren’t about him.

  2. Don Shor

    [moderator] We have a guest columnist who has written an article about climate change. I have just removed 14 comments that were not about climate change. 

    Folks, this is going to keep happening unless you all please stay on topic. 

  3. Jerry Waszczuk

    moderator] We have a guest columnist who has written an article about climate change. I have just removed 14 comments that were not about climate change. 

      The University of California Sustainable Practices Policy issued on June 22, 2015 is making reference to six greenhouse gasses identified in the Kyoto Protocol as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, and perfluorocarbons. The Kyoto Protocol   was never ratified by the United States of America and it must be a reason behind.  
    Do you know why United States did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol ?  The US is almost on  the same level as China in discharging of the greenhouse gases to the atmosphere . Who to blame ?

  4. tribeUSA

    Re: “One thing is certain, the President-elect’s disbelief that climate change is real and human caused has many scientists very concerned.”

    I’m fairly certain that Trump will come around on Climate Change; when it is presented to him in a risk-mitigation framework; which is the framework in which policy-makers deal with climate change risks and mitigation cost/benefits. As a developer, he is familiar with concepts of ‘taking a gamble’ and of risk mitigation (to increase the odds of winning the bet; and reducing the costs of losing). Given the offhand remarks Trump has made in the past I can understand the concern about Trump; however I think you’ll see him come around–if not soon, the public can make things warmer for him!

    1. Jerry Waszczuk


      I don’t believe  that  the Trump administration would be  suicidal   and  will  disregard the  established environmental laws and regulations .  It does not matter which party  Dems or Reps   administration would have power . The  corporate America dictates how far governments  could go with environmental law .  This is  the endless battle . The  corporations  did not move production of goods to  overseas for the  only reason because  the cheaper labor in China or Mexico .  Not to have any environmental regulations on the China’s or  other countries soil  it  was for the  many greedy and grizzly corporation the opportunity to make extra billions of dollars with out any risk to be penalize.  China is the communist country and  no one existing  communist country government on the planet Earth cares about the natural environment .

      1. tribeUSA

        Jerry–I think China has been coming around on environmental laws for economic reasons if nothing else–the impaired health, disease, and deaths caused by filling their lungs with their toxic air pollution; unhealthy workers are not as productive. Also there is major concern about sustaining clean fresh water supplies for humans (drinking, washing). Their rivers and lakes are fouled; and more of their groundwater aquifers are getting fouled or depleted. Again they need to keep their human workforce healthy to sustain productivity.

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