In this essay, I will explain the ecological impacts of global warming for Arctic areas, to the trees, plants, natives and animals.
In recently, the 20% of solar radiation is absorbed from the ice caps, since the sea, plants and rocks have the low albedo. This is because of oceans are darker than ice and snow; it absorbs more energy than it reflects, which causes the warming effect. Due to warming effect, it melts more ice and creates a cycle called the positive ice albedo feedback, which in turn causes an increase in average temperature, and therefore increases ice melting even more, and so on. This negative feedback mechanism will also further greenhouse gas emissions by the thawing of permafrost. Beneath the permafrost found on arctic tundra, are thousands of gallons of methane, trapped there for thousands of years. As this permafrost begins to melt, the methane will be released, increasing the temperature and creating a similar feedback mechanism to the albedo effect stated above.
Increasing temperatures lead to the treeline moving north and to higher altitudes, causing a distortion in tundra ecosystems due to the warm climate and other plants competing and take over, permafrost thawing out, the change of the food chain due to the spread of species, such as spruce bark beetle in Alaska like competing with other animals can affect predators or preys. Increasing temperatures also lead to increases in the number of northern coniferous fires in Arctic Russia. Burning tens of millions of hectares each year causes the loss of 0.8% of the world’s coniferous. Boreal ecosystems are vital and accounted for 37% of the world’s carbon pool on land, and are effective at sinking carbon. Burning tens of millions of hectares can result in the release of carbon dioxide and reducing the amount of homes for species.
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Increasing temperature has many effects on Arctic biodiversity including the northward movement of more southern species, shrubbing and greening of the land, changing plant communities, increases in migrating foreign species displacing native Arctic inhabitants and Arctic Biodiversity Assessment Trend 2010 Report shows the new disease starts to spreading, can possibly harm the natives as well as animals. Changes in biodiversity are creating both challenges and opportunities for Arctic people, like less southern species to be found and less Arctic people will be able to find them for foods supply or essentials.
As result in the release of methane and CO2, biological processes taking place in the Arctic Ocean and favour the retention of pollutants, which is then enter the food chain. As a result, the people and ecosystems are exposed to high levels of heavy metals and radiation. Also, the climate change is causing some changes in release of pollutants; degradation of highly toxic chemicals.
The shrinking ice sheets have affected the marine species in the Arctic and the food chain. The warmer water has decreased the number of marine plants, which many smaller fish feed on. The reduction in smaller fish species has affect the higher up food chain, such as cod and halibut that in turn affects larger marine species, such as seals. This results in the negative multiplier effect. The small number of seals stock reduces the food supply for polar bears. Furthermore, the melting Arctic ice has had a disastrous impact on polar bears because normally, they hunt seals on the ice but the faster the ice melts and the faster annual ice melt, shorten their spring hunting season. E.g. Hudson Bay is now ice-free for three weeks longer than in 1985 and polar bears have the less time to hunt the reduced numbers of seals. However, the female polar bears rely on the cold spring to build up their fats to ensure their survival during the summer but currently, each animal lose 80kg of fat during the longer summer, making them vulnerable to disease and reduce their ability of reproduce or feed their cubs.
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As explained above, the melting of the Arctic ice is destroying seal hunting grounds and so limiting access to Inuit food supply. Also, the melting of glaciers into the arctic waters is causing less fish to reside the now fresh waters, causing polar bear and seal numbers to decrease as there food source disappears. Such an impact to the Inuit food supply and main source of income would mean that communities would have to import food instead of hunting it, which would be incredibly expensive (up to USD$ 1 million per year) due to their high protein requirements to help them cope with the harsh environment.
Overall, there are many ecological impacts due to the increased temperatures, global warming, permafrost thawing out and positive albedo feedback. The impacts are small spaces for seals, polar bears and plants to live in, resulting in migrating to the north. Due to the increased temperature, the treeline is moving north, where it couldn’t survive.