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Caught between COVID-19 and climate crisis

  • IASbaba
  • December 23, 2021
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(Down to Earth: Climate Change)


Dec 17: Caught between COVID-19 and climate crisis: How the Arctic saw massive disruptions in 2021 – https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/caught-between-Covid-19-and-climate-crisis-how-arctic-saw-massive-disruptions-in-2021-80738 

TOPIC:

  • GS-3: Climate Change

Caught between COVID-19 and climate crisis: How the Arctic saw massive disruptions in 2021

Context: Arctic Circle, one of the most climatologically important regions on Earth, has continued to warm at a rate more than twice as compared to the rest of the world through 2021.

Its impact on the natives:

Natives of the arctic region are torn between two global crises – The novel coronavirus pandemic and climate change. Their lives and livelihoods are at risk as:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation for Alaska natives in accessing traditional food 
  • To help mitigate these challenges, it was their indigenous culture and economic practices such as food sharing networks that came to the rescue. Indigenous Food Knowledges Network is one such food network that operates in the Arctic and the United States mid-west, bridging the two diverse regions.
  • In addition to that, as the climate is warming, the ice inside the permafrost is melting and the glaciers are retreating. This is causing both local and regional hazards such as ocean acidification that is depleting marine resources like fish. The Arctic Ocean is acidifying faster than the rest of the global oceans, which threatens the entire ecosystem that the ocean supports.

Climate change indicators caused by warming

  • The time between October 2020 and September 2021 marked as seventh-warmest since the beginning of records. It was the eighth consecutive year since 2014 when the average temperature of the region was at least 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial average.
  • Summer 2021 recorded the second-lowest amount of older, multiyear ice since 1985 while April 2021 recorded the lowest post-winter sea ice volume ever since the record began in 2010. This decline in sea ice extent is one of the most iconic indicators of global climate change caused due to the rapid melting of sea ice because of warming. Arctic Sea ice reduced by around 39 percent in the last 38 years.
  • The Arctic region showed a significant warming trend between 1982 and 2021 showing how it has warmed thrice as much as the planet in the last 50 years. And in August 2021, the Arctic Ocean recorded a particularly warm surface temperature.
  • Warming has also caused an extensive greening of snow-covered lands like Alaska. 
  • The melting snow, in turn, affected the intensity of the water cycle of the region as it increased the discharge of the Arctic rivers by 12 percent over the average between 1981 and 2010.
  • For some regions, the impact is rather drastic. In July and August, the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced three extreme melting episodes. On August 14 extremely unusual rainfall was observed at the Summit Station at an elevation of 3,200 meters above sea level. This is alarming as rainfall has never been recorded before at the station.
  • The warming also caused major disruptions in the ecology of the Arctic region in terms of ocean productivity, which is the extent of phytoplankton in the oceans, responsible for the formation of the first link in the food web of most marine ecosystems. Scientists observed a higher ocean primary productivity than the long-term average between 2003 and 2020, in seven of the nine sub-regions of the Arctic.
  • As the green cover of the tundra biome of the Arctic region also increased in 2021, Beavers have been colonizing the Arctic tundra in western Alaska. They have been increasing the amount of unfrozen surface water on the landscape in winter and, in turn, degrading permafrost. This can emit huge amounts of the greenhouse gas methane, 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, in places like Siberia which can turn the coldest place on earth into a temperate zone.
  • To aggravate the situation, scientists have observed the grassy tundra transitioning to even more scrublands and shrubs becoming larger and denser because of climate-induced greening. 

Disrupting Impact on the Arctic region’s environment and its inhabitants caused by other human interventions

  • Ships, mostly for trade, ferrying between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans have increased.
  • Marine mammal calls have reportedly increased ambient marine noise levels in the frequency bands.
  • This deviation in their navigation systems causes mass stranding of whales, dolphins, and other species along the beaches of many countries in and around the Arctic region.
  • The foreign ship traffic has caused strange debris to wash ashore in the Arctic region.

Conclusion

Novel coronavirus has been equally drastic for all the parts of the world but, given the climate change crisis, it has been significantly harsh on the Arctic region and its people. The environmental changes that have already set in due to the warming of the region can cause damage for several decades, even if solid measures are taken to contain the changes. Hence, it becomes very important to revisit the commitments of global climate change, especially in times of covid and spread more awareness to curb human interventions before it is too late. 

Can you answer the following question?

  1. The Arctic Circle has continued to warm at more than twice the rate as the rest of the world through 2021. Discuss the implications.

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