Arctic ecosystems are in particular dismay as the carbon footprint grows heavier and deeper!
Will there be a point in which we can turn back? For all readers who have seen The Lion King, do you remember the ‘Circle of Life’ concept? Well, our balance of life is shifting drastically since global warming has been on the rise in the past few decades, threatening many animals to extinction. If you think of an ecosystem as a web of resources, for which animals and plants are dependent upon each other and their environment for food, light, and living, if you add or take away something as crucial as food supply, it affects the entire rest of the web. That is what’s happening with climate change: it’s threatening all of us, and nothing that’s been done so far has been enough!
The arctic is one place where the ecosystem is particularly fragile. The flora and fauna have adapted to severe climate and seasonal weather changes, (such as with ice melt in the summertime, and polar bears move towards land, Grizzly territory, for example). But all of these species and habitats are in danger now, threatening some to extinction. If an animal’s extinction doesn’t bother you, think of the web of the Circle of Life – eventually, we as humans will feel the effects of that loss.
All plants and animals in the Arctic are starting to feel the heat, forcing unusual behaviors and extreme adaptation methods.
For example, red foxes have moved northward, into the territory of the Arctic fox, for which they both compete for the same food supply. Migrating caribou herds face problems with calving season, since the nutritious plants they feast on are sprouting earlier, and there numbers have since declined. According to Velasquez-Manoff, author of “Global warming takes a toll on Arctic ecosystems,”In the past 150 years, Earth’s average temperature has increased by about 0.4 C (0.72 F.).But the Arctic has warmed two to three time as much. As a result, spring arrives earlier and winter is less severe. Some plants begin flowering 20 days earlier than previously. Insects show up earlier. Herbivorous insects, like the winter moth, have moved north, defoliating birch forests in parts of Scandinavia” (Velasquez-Manoff, 2009).
The side-effects of global warming include (but are not limited to):
–Reduction of species’ food supply
-Erratic seasons as plants and animals try to adapt to a changing climate: “season swap”
-Possibility of bacteria and disease spreading, with the potential for mass extinction and/or improved bacteria and viruses
-Sea water rise, migration of certain animals and even humans!
-A rapid increase in some species’ populations
-Food and sanitation safety; global warming can greatly reduce the availability of crops and decreases the economic well being of agriculture and farming
-Extreme weather shifts, including an increase in tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and volcanic activity.
The problem with global warming is that it causes potential “sleeping giant” problems – issues that we can’t even full understand or appreciate until it’s too late – until they are right in front of us and there’s nothing we can do to stop them.
According to CNN international “Arctic species under threat’: “Shaye Wolf, lead author and climate science director of the CBD told CNN: “The plight of the polar bear due to global warming is very well known and familiar. But many other Arctic species are suffering a similar fate — from plankton all the way to the great whales.” (Knight, 2010)
And the Arctic region is now the most fragile place in all of the world when it comes to climate change. Pacific Walruses, like polar bears, are ice dependent; their numbers are declining. Regarding this, Wolfe says: “As we speak, there are 10 to 20,000 walruses holed up on Alaskan Arctic coastline. And that is attributable to sea ice loss.” Walruses are like polar bears in that they need rest, and they rest on ice; they cannot swim continuously.
Even underwater species play a role, and they too are being threatened by ocean acidification (please see previous blog for more info. on ocean acidification). According to the report by CNN International (2010):
“Shell-building marine creatures like the sea butterfly (Clione limacina) are particularly vulnerable to acidification.Their loss would be potentially devastating for other species.” (Knight 2010)
So what can we do about it? The answer is: REDUCE GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS. “The Arctic is ground zero for climate change and we’re already pushing many species towards extinction. The key to preventing their loss is reducing our greenhouse gas emissions — specifically carbon dioxide — to a level of 350ppm or below. That is a level many leading scientists have called for to restore Arctic sea ice,” states Wolfe from the CNN report. (Knight, 2010)
For a further read, please view the following article:
What kind of changes can we expect to see if global warming isn’t thwarted? What is already in a state of peril? Now we have come to the point where we must decide what is important to us, and how we are going to incorporate science and geo-engineering to help us re-balance the Earth. We need the help of our political leaders to guide us into sustainable manufacturing, producing and living; we need educators and scientists to speak out and we need our global community to understand the risks involved with our daily choices. We are responsible for tomorrow. You and I are responsible for Earth’s climate control, just as much as the person next to you. We are all in this together, and that’s the only way we will ever be able to make a dent in climate change!
Knight, Matthew (2010). “Arctic species under threat, report warns” CNN International. Accessed from: Arctic species under threat, report warns
Velasquez-Manoff, Moises. (2009) “Global warming takes a toll on Arctic ecosystem.” The Christian Science Monitor. Accessed from: Global warming takes a toll on Arctic ecosystems