COP 26: Greening of polar ice should top agenda; here’s why

Synopsis: Greening of the poles must be a top priority for the upcoming COP26 meeting

Introduction

Researchers at NASA, using 29 years of data from Landsat satellites, have observed extensive greening around Alaska and Canada, which were snow-covered lands.

For the past several decades, the Arctic has been warming twice as quickly as the rest of the world and undergoing tremendous transformation.

Arctic Sea ice reduced by around 39% in the last 38 years. Over the same period, ice in Antarctica also reduced by 6.2%.

What is the reason behind greening of polar ice?

As per scientists, this is occurring because Arctic summers are getting warmer every decade.

Why is Arctic region is getting warmer?

Sea ice has a bright surface meaning about 80% of the sunlight that strikes it is reflected into space.

Melting of sea ice: The sea ice melts and exposes the deep, dark ocean water because of rising temperatures.

– Heating of sea water: Now, instead of reflecting 80% of the sunlight, the ocean absorbs 90% of the solar radiation. The seawater heats up and Arctic temperatures rise further, amplifying the rate of warming.

The resultant warmer air and soil temperatures provides a habitable climate turning the region greener.

Rapidly rising temperatures in the Arctic have led to longer growing seasons and shifting soils for the plants.

What is the impact of greening?

Greening will convert the ‘net reflective’ ice caps to ‘net absorptive’, tampering with the global energy balance and accelerate polar ice melting.

Scientists have observed the grassy tundra transitioning to scrublands and shrubs becoming larger and denser. The Arctic faced several other adverse impacts in its zone because of climate-induced greening.

Impact on biodiversity: The reindeer populations declined with the increased growth of summer pastures. Many non-edible shrubs grew, which eventually led to the disappearance of the reindeer herds from the region, threatening the biodiversity of the region.

How is Antarctic region being impacted by greening of polar ice?

Like the Arctic, the Antarctic is also greening because of the irreversible melting of sea ice, which is green in colour.

In 2016, it was discovered that marine ice has 500 times more iron than the ice above it. This iron comes from the rocks under the Antarctic ice sheet which, when glaciers pass over them, are ground into a fine powder.

The ice-bound iron oxidizes in contact with seawater.

The resulting iron oxide particles take on a green hue as light scatters through them. The green ice only becomes visible when an iceberg capsizes and flips over from excessive melting and is disjointed from the main body.

Thus, melting of sea is leading to the greening of polar ice in both Arctic and Antarctic.

What is the way forward?

The effects of climate change (greening of the poles) are trans-boundary in nature. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the only solution could be integrated international negotiations and frameworks.

These are required to set standards for nations and businesses to achieve global average temperature standards at the earliest, before the warming crosses the tipping point.

Source: This post is based on the article “COP 26: Greening of polar ice should top agenda; here’s why” published in DTE on 25th Oct 2021.

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