How Global Warming in the Arctic Affects the Rest of the World

An iceberg melting near Greenland's Ammassalik Island is just one sign of global warming. A record amount of ice has melted in the Arctic.
An iceberg melting near Greenland's Ammassalik Island is just one sign of global warming. A record amount of ice has melted in the Arctic. (By John Mcconnico -- Associated Press)
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

If you think summers in the Washington area are hot, you should try the Arctic.

Seriously. For the past two summers, a record amount of ice in the Arctic has melted, and it could happen again this year. And just recently, a large ice bridge in Antarctica broke apart.

These events have focused more attention on how global warming is affecting the ice cover of the North and South Poles. Since there's only one degree of temperature difference between liquid water and ice, the slightest warming of the climate can have an impact. (Think about it: At 32 degrees, you have an ice cube, but at 33 degrees, you have a glass of water!)

KidsPost reporter Margaret Webb Pressler asked some experts about what changes kids are likely to see in their lifetimes as a result of the ice melt.

It Is Already Happening

There are changes taking place around the North Pole right now because of melting ice. Arctic animals such as polar bears and sea lions have smaller areas in which to live, hunt and raise their young. Hunting patterns of some native communities have been hurt, too.

With less ice, the Arctic also is more open to shipping, fishing and other commercial activities, such as oil drilling, which could hurt the fragile polar environment.

Even visitors who want to explore the beautiful wilderness pose a threat. "A lot of people are concerned about an increase in tourism," said John Walsh, who teaches global climate change at the University of Alaska.

What Could Happen?

Scientists predict that melting polar ice will cause sea levels all around the world, not just in the Arctic, to rise at least one foot by the year 2100. That would hurt some waterfront communities, especially during storms.

But there is debate among climate experts about how fast the ice will melt. Some scientists suggest seawater could rise as much as seven to nine feet by the end of this century. That could put parts of New York City and Miami underwater.

"Most likely the truth is somewhere in the middle," Walsh said.

The Good News

There is still time to stop, or at least slow, the melting process. Even if the ice at the poles were to melt completely, the worst impact wouldn't be for hundreds of years, according to James Wang, a climate scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.

That long time frame gives efforts to stop global warming a chance to work. Slowing global warming now "would reduce the amount of ice melt and the amount of sea level rise," Wang said.

And the ice cover in Antarctica (or the South Pole), which is far greater than the ice cover in the North Pole, is melting much more slowly. So the Arctic ice melt can be viewed as an early warning signal, Walsh said. "If we pay attention to it, it could save us trouble down the road."

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