New Study Shows Projected Rise in Sea Levels Much Higher Than Previously Expected
A study of Arctic ice conducted by the International Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program has revealed that sea levels are projected to rise much more drastically than previously expected. The report, titled Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA), assessed the cryosphere of the Arctic region and found that the accelerated rate of glacial melting will contribute to a dramatic rise of sea levels.
The cryosphere consists of the portion of the Earth’s surface that is either seasonally or permanently frozen, including glaciers, ice caps/sheets, snow, and sea ice. The report states that “changes in the cryosphere cause fundamental changes to the characteristics of Arctic ecosystems and in some cases loss of entire habitats.” Some elements of the cryosphere vary seasonally or annually, while other elements vary over longer periods of time. The report aimed to assess and analyze the changing climate of the Arctic in order to distinguish between short-term and long-term changes in the region.
The SWIPA report predicts a rise in sea levels of 35 to 63 inches by 2100. This projection stands in stark contrast to a 2007 study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicted a rise in sea levels of 7 to 23 inches. Rapidly rising temperatures have accelerated glacial melting in recent years; surface air temperatures between 2005-2010 have been the highest since temperatures were first recorded in 1880. Further, average annual air temperature over the Arctic has increased twice as much as other parts of the world since 1980.
Other key findings presented in the report include:
-The largest bodies of ice in the Arctic, including the Greenland Ice Sheet, have been declining faster since 2000 than in any previous decade
-It is predicted that the Arctic Ocean will become almost ice-free at some point in this century, most likely in the next thirty to forty years
-Even though maximum snow depth is expected to increase over many Arctic areas by 2050, the duration of the snow cover is predicted to decrease by 20%
-The loss of ice and snow in the Arctic contribute to global warming by increasing the absorption of energy from the sun at the surface of the planet, which could contribute to increased emissions of carbon dioxide and methane
-The infrastructure of the Arctic will experience a higher risk of damage as the crysosphere continues to change
SWIPA posits that “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies.” In order to combat human-caused global warming, steps must be taken in order to prevent the further rising of temperatures and subsequent glacial melting. The study suggests action from “governments and international bodies to establish new laws and regulations” to slow down or prevent the loss of Arctic ice. Suggested courses of action include new fishing regulations, standards for construction, and transport networks that take into account the shorter ice season.
The report concludes by acknowledging that uncertainty remains about the ultimate effects of climate change on the Arctic region. In order to minimize uncertainty, further research and observation is necessary to assess the interaction, known as feedbacks, between the crysophere and the climate system. Observations of the Arctic surface will analyze glaciers, permafrost, and the depth of snow, helping scientists further understand the effects of global warming in the Arctic.
Photo credit: epa.gov/climatechange/effects/extreme.html