As the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, its impacts are felt far beyond its frigid confines – just because you don’t live in an Arctic nation doesn’t mean you won’t feel the impacts of its wide-spreading change, according to a commentary written in Advancing Earth and Space Science. Arctic elements – disappearing land ice, sea ice, and permafrost – are interconnected; as one accelerates, others are equally impacted and can potentially affect infrastructure, economics, and cultures of people who live in and outside of the Arctic.
"To many, the Arctic seems like a distant universe—one that could never impact their lives," said research scientist Twila Moon in a statement. "But the reality is, changes in the Arctic are increasingly affecting the rest of the world, causing amplified climate change, sea level rise, coastal flooding, and more devastating storms."
Sea Level Rise
Land ice melting has contributed to 60 percent of sea level rise over the last four decades. If current projections persist, sea levels could rise as much as 1 meter by the end of the century. More than two-thirds of Americans live along the coast alone, but nearly every coastal country in the world will see a loss of land by the end of the century.
Over the last year, extreme weather has struck nearly every corner of the world, from the polar vortex sweeping across the continental US to Australia’s extreme street-melting heatwave. According to the authors, some theories suggest changes in the Arctic jet stream could be affecting extreme weather events, further exacerbating their impacts in the years to come.
Damage To Infrastructure
Under a “business as usual” emission projection, the International Panel on Climate Change estimates Alaska alone will suffer infrastructure damages totaling $5.5 billion dollars over the next 80 years, half of which is due to permafrost thawing. As it melts, permafrost – the frozen ground that covers much of Alaska and Canada – not only collapses roads and buildings but also releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere (amongst other things). Tundra covers almost 20 percent of the Earth’s surface and has been shown to thaw at deeper levels over longer periods of time. Furthermore, the Arctic is a carbon sink that normally holds a majority of the world’s carbon in the frozen ground, but as permafrost thaws the carbon it stores are released, starting a cycle that could lead to further increased global warming with worldwide implications
Erosion To Coastal Communities
Sea ice reach and thickness has declined in the last decades, causing coastal erosion in Siberia and Alaska – sea ice regulates the Earth’s climate by reflecting solar radiation, as it declines, warming is further amplified. A recent unrelated study found that rainy weather becoming more common throughout the year when it should be snowing is eating away at ice and contributing to diminishing ice reach.
The global footprint of Arctic change is growing, not shrinking, and the authors suggest that its impacts will be felt around the world.
"As the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the globe, we'll continue to see impacts worldwide, including in tropical and temperate countries with big cities, large economies, and lots of infrastructure," said Moon. "If we want to safeguard our people and society, we need to act now to both reduce emissions to curb warming and to prepare for the inevitable changes already set in motion.”