The issue

Ancient glaciers are melting

While filming on assignment in the Arctic, the Chasing Ice team captured the largest calving event ever caught on camera, and although they were the only ones to witness it at the time, we’re all subject to its consequences.  Wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other extreme natural disasters are all connected to what’s happening in the arctic.

Glaciers have been a part of earth’s ecosystem for millenia, with the oldest remaining glacier approaching nearly 1 million years old.


Why ice matters: Albedo

When there’s fresh snow on the ground, have you ever noticed that things tend to get a bit brighter? That’s because snow and ice have a reflective property called albedo. They reflect 70% of the sun’s energy back out into space, drastically reducing the amount of heat absorbed by our planet. Pretty cool right? But with less ice and snow, less energy can be reflected back to space, meaning it is absorbed as heat, warming the planet and increasing the acidity of the ocean.

Dr. Tad Pfeffer, a leading glaciologist from the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a professor at University of Colorado, explains how we know what we know:

“Ice Sheets are giant domes of ice that preserve climate records much like tree rings, snow is added to the top and turn into ice sheets. Scientists drill holes and pull out a core and examine bubbles of ancient air trapped in the ice. By looking at the chemistry of ice we can learn about past temperature and by looking at the air we can measure carbon dioxide content”.

Pfeffer and many other leading scientists around the world have seen that for the past 800,000 years, past temperature and carbon dioxide levels vary together, they go up together and down together.

Before humans started adding more CO2 to the atmosphere around the Industrial Revolution, ice core samples show that the concentration was never more than 280 ppm (parts per million).

As of November 2021, it is at 415 ppm.

The consequences

Ocean acidification

When ice melts and glaciers retreat they expose the dark surface of the oceans. Ice and snow have a reflective albedo effect, but what about open water? Lighter colors reflect light and darker colors absorb it, so when the sun’s rays meet the ocean, instead of bouncing back into space, the energy is absorbed by the water as heat. When the temperature rises, water chemistry changes due to a series of heat fueled reactions that lower the pH, making it more acidic than normal. According to scientists, the ocean has absorbed 93% of excess heat from greenhouse gasses since the 1970s.

sea level rise

Sea level rise is a complicated issue with lots of factors at play, but we’re focusing on its role with climate change and ice. As glaciers and icebergs melt, fresh water flows into the oceans. One might think that since ice is less dense than water, causing it to float, that the water it displaces is equal to the volume of the water it releases; but that’s not the case. Fresh water is less dense than salt water; so in its liquid state it takes up more space which is why melted glaciers raise sea levels. Note that the surface of the ocean isn’t flat, so different coasts will experience different levels of water rise.


climate action

The accelerated warming of our planet has a ripple effect that shows up in ways that may surprise you. Melting ice is only one symptom of a global climate shift that has a long list of consequences. An easy way to think about climate is as a collection of little weathers, so when the overall climate starts to change, so too will the local weather events like tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides, and droughts.

To address the climate emergency, we must adopt an equitable and intersectional approach. Intersectional environmentalism recognizes the disproportionate number of ways in which environmental degradation impacts people of color, welcomes collaborative solutions, and creates space for all voices, especially of those being most impacted.


Resources

Learn more about what’s happening in the Arctic with these recommendation.

Arctic Report Card

This tool from NOAA gives a status update on ice and the arctic with provided historical context to illustrate the state of our planet.

The Thwaites Glacier

This quick video explains the methods and consequences of ancient glaciers depleting faster than we can keep up with

economy and Climate

This video explains how our economies are impact by climate at a high level, which is a crucial piece in understanding the significance of the climate crisis.

How do we know?

NASA has put together a page laying out the facts to prove the man made climate change is an irrefutable reality.