Greening of Polar ice

  • IASbaba
  • October 26, 2021
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Oct 25: CoP 26: Greening of polar ice should be top agenda; here’s why – 


  • GS-II – Global Groupings
  • GS-III – Climate Change

Greening of Polar ice

In News: The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference. It is scheduled to be held in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, between 31 October and 12 November 2021, under the co-presidency of the United Kingdom and Italy.

Greening of polar ice 

Climate change affects the polar ice caps that are the thermostats of the planet with their high albedo. Albedo of a surface is the fraction of sunlight it reflects back. Greening will convert the ‘net reflective’ ice caps to ‘net absorptive’, tampering with the global energy balance and accelerate polar ice melting.

For the past several decades, the Arctic has been warming twice as quickly as the rest of the world and undergoing tremendous transformation. Arctic Sea ice reduced by around 39 per cent in the last 38 years. Over the same period, ice in Antarctica also reduced by 6.2 per cent.

Researchers have observed extensive greening around Alaska and Canada, which were snow-covered lands. 

  • This is occurring because Arctic summers are getting warmer every decade and this can be clearly explained by the positive feedback loop. 
  • Sea ice has a bright surface — about 80 per cent of the sunlight that strikes it is reflected into space. The sea ice melts and exposes the deep, dark ocean water because of rising temperatures.
  • Now, instead of reflecting 80 per cent of the sunlight, the ocean absorbs 90 per cent of the solar radiation. The seawater heats up and Arctic temperatures rise further, amplifying the rate of warming. 
  • The region, as a result, turns greener with the habitable climate provided by warmer air and soil temperatures. Rapidly rising temperatures in the Arctic have led to longer growing seasons and shifting soils for the plants. 
  • Scientists have observed the grassy tundra transitioning to scrublands and shrubs becoming larger and denser. The Arctic faced several other adverse impacts in its zone because of climate-induced greening.

What about Antarctica?

The Antarctic is also equally greening because of the irreversible melting of sea ice, which is green in colour. 

  • In 2016, it was discovered that marine ice has 500 times more iron than the ice above it. This iron comes from the rocks under the Antarctic ice sheet which, when glaciers pass over them, are ground into a fine powder. 
  • The ice-bound iron oxidizes in contact with seawater.
  • The resulting iron oxide particles take on a green hue as light scatters through them. The green ice only becomes visible when an iceberg capsizes and flips over from excessive melting and is disjointed from the main body.


Rapidly melting permafrost in the poles is also releasing trapped greenhouse gases like methane into the atmosphere. Thawing of permafrost is releasing ancient methane in places like Siberia, which can turn the coldest place on earth into a temperate zone.

The IPCC report says that the world must also deliver rapid and drastic reductions in methane emissions, in addition to slashing carbon dioxide emissions, to mitigate the climate crisis. 

  • Rather than looking at profitable goals, we should try to focus on the shift to sustainable standards of development in the economies. In this period, instead of rushing into business as usual, the primary investments that are to be made by these world leaders ought to be climate-conscious to determine a low-carbon future.
  • The effects of climate change (greening of the poles) are transboundary in nature. Thus, the only solution could be integrated international negotiations and frameworks. These are required to set standards for nations and businesses to achieve global average temperature standards at the earliest, before the warming crosses the tipping point.

The reasons discussed above are why the greening of poles cannot be dismissed or ignored, and should be at the top of the agenda for the upcoming CoP26.

Can you answer the following question?

  • Climate change risks give rise to several geopolitical problems. Discuss.

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