Arctic Fusion | Environment Maine

Cover photo by [email protected] via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you’ve spent time outdoors in the past month, it’s no surprise that we’re facing a very hot summer. Temperatures are rising and reaching record highs around the world. According to scientists like Friederike Otto, climatologist and professor in the Global Climate Science Program at the University of Oxford, our fossil fuel business is to blame.

Greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures

Sandor Somkuti via Flickr, US Public Domain

Greenhouse gas emissions have global temperature rise of 2 degrees Fahrenheit since pre-industrial times, and fossil fuel projects have only made this reality worse. Oil drilling projects like ConocoPhillips willow project are bad news for our planet. Their impact is particularly amplified by their position in the Arctic.

Warming up four times faster As a global average, the Arctic region is vulnerable to rising temperatures and is currently experiencing the transformative effects of climate change. Its ecosystems have already begun to break down due to changes in sea ice cover, glaciers and permafrost. The survival of wildlife, as well as the livelihoods and health of indigenous communities, are at high risk.

Receding Glacier, Alpefjord, Northeast Greenland National Park.

GRID-Arendal via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Over the past 30 years, sea ice cover has decreased dramatically along with rising temperatures. Less sea ice resulted in less reflection of sunlight and more absorption by exposed darker ocean surfaces, leading to even greater sea ice loss. Glaciers simultaneously began to melt at a rapid rate, further contributing to sea level rise and habitat degradation. Ice-dependent species like polar bears and walruses are in grave danger. By 2100, they could face displacement, reproductive failure and starvation. They are not the only ones in danger. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest wildlife refuge in America and provides habitat for caribou, porcupines, foxes and over 200 species of migratory birds. Disturbance of a species will alter a delicate and closely interconnected ecosystem.

A threat to the survival of Arctic wildlife is a threat to the survival of indigenous peoples, such as the Gwich’in, whose traditional way of life depends on subsistence hunting. Melting Arctic landscapes endanger wildlife and affect the availability of traditional food sources, while making activities like hunting and fishing more precarious. The number and frequency of forest fires in the tundra also increased alongside warmer temperatures, further threatening potential food sources. For communities that have thrived in the region for centuries, food shortages are now becoming a looming reality.

Arctic polar bears face shorter sea ice season

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr, CC BY 2.0,

Permafrost, the frozen layer of ground that has covered the tundra for millennia, is thawing. Studies indicate that up to 10 feet of permafrost is likely to melt if emissions do not decrease. The disintegration of permafrost would destabilize land, triggering environmental disasters and collapsing infrastructure. If we continue on our current warming trajectory, the Arctic will experience not only food shortages, but also landslides, collapsing shorelines, warping roads, dried up lakes and collapsing houses as well.

However, the impact of permafrost thaw is not limited to the Arctic. Covering around a quarter of the land in the northern hemispherepermafrost stores around 1.5 million tons of carbon. The thaw would lead to the release of greenhouse gas reserves like methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide that have been locked up in the ground for centuries. The Arctic and our global climate system would be affected and the severe repercussions would be felt around the world.

The Arctic cannot afford the effects of rising temperatures. An important step we must take to save the Arctic is to call on the Department of the Interior to reject dangerous oil extraction in Alaska, including ConocoPhillips’ Project Willow.

This blog was co-authored by Environment America intern Jasmine Sinchai

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