Exploring the Arctic: The Melting Arctic
Why have we made this series? Why is the Arctic so important?
In the first edition of this series, I explained that the Arctic is crucial to the regulation of the rest of the world. In this post, I will explain why — but pay attention, it’s about to get technical.
According to Voosen (2021), the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world. Four times! But why is this? Arctic amplification is the process whereby, as the ice melts, more of the ocean is exposed, this darker colour increases the absorption of solar energy, increasing the temperature once again. As a result, the more ice melts, the more temperatures rise, which causes more ice to melt. This process of continued worsening is referred to in geography as ‘positive feedback’.
But wait, there is another factor in play. We have previously spoken about permafrost in the ‘Exploring the Arctic: An Introduction’ post. Permafrost stores a large amount of carbon, hence as it melts, more methane is released. This occurs because as the permafrost thaws, the micro-organisms in the permafrost ‘wake-up’, allowing decomposition and decay that emits methane into the atmosphere.
Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat (EPA, 2022), as a result, the melting of permafrost would cause significant heating globally, as well as many other knock-on impacts.
Changing weather patterns
Some scientists have attributed unusual weather events such as heatwaves to Arctic melting, as explained in Coghlan (2014). This occurs because the increased Arctic temperatures (associated with Arctic melting) distort the jet stream. The jet stream is a band of strong winds blowing from west to east which is a key factor in the weather of the UK (Met Office, n.d). This distorted jet stream causes weather systems to be trapped in one place for an extended period, exacerbating extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere.
There is also some concern with regards to the impact of Arctic melting on global currents. This occurs because Arctic melting would increase freshwater input into the sea, changing the density of the sea water and causing currents to slow down. This would result in cooler temperatures in Europe (UCAR, n.d).
As a result, Arctic melting causes a number of weather and climate related issues worldwide.
Sea level rise
If the Greenland ice sheet melted, the global sea level would rise by 7 meters (Merzdorf, 2017). It’s quite easy to picture the kind of destruction this would cause worldwide. Tuvalu, an island in the Pacific ocean is already experiencing this kind of issue. The Foreign minister recently went viral for giving a speech to COP26 in the sea… in an area that used to be land.
A projected increase in sea level would significantly flood megacities such as Hong Kong and Mumbai, causing saltwater intrusion that would threaten agriculture and industry globally (Sneed, 2017). As a result, Arctic melting would devastate both urban and rural areas worldwide.
Source: George Desipiris, 2017
We can take action to protect the Arctic by reducing our emissions e.g. walking to school instead of driving, making our homes more energy efficient and supporting organisations that protect the Arctic.
Thanks for reading!
Written by Catrin Lewis, Climate Change Communicator Volunteer.
André, J.C. (2019) Iceberg.
Desipris, G. (2017) Big Waves Under Cloudy Sky.
Coghlan, A. (2014) Crazy weather traced to Arctic’s impact on Jet Stream, New
Scientist. New Scientist. Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26278-crazy-weather-traced-to-arctics-impact-on-jet-stream/
Center for Science Education (n.d.) How Melting Arctic Ice Affects Ocean Currents | Center for Science Education. Available at: https://scied.ucar.edu/learning-zone/climate-change-impacts/melting-arctic-sea-ice-and-ocean-currents
EPA.(n.d.) Importance of Methane. Available at:https://www.epa.gov/gmi/importance-methane#:~:text=Methane%20is%20the%20second%20most%20abundant%20anthropogenic%20GHG,carbon%20dioxide%20at%20trapping%20heat%20in%20the%20atmosphere.
Merzdorf, J. (2019) Study predicts more long-term sea level rise from
Greenland Ice – climate change: Vital signs of the planet, NASA. NASA. Available at:https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2883/study-predicts-more-long-term-sea-level-rise-from-greenland-ice/
Met Office (n.d.) What is the jet stream?. Available at: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/learn-about/weather/types-of-weather/wind/what-is-the-jet-stream
Sneed, A. (2017) How is worldwide sea level rise driven by melting arctic ice?, Scientific American. Scientific American. Available at:
Voosen, P. (2021) The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world, Science. Available at:https://www.science.org/content/article/arctic-warming-four-times-faster-rest-world