Science & Tech, World

The Melting Ice Caps

What is the biggest threat to mankind?

Ask the average adult and the most likely answers will probably include the various types of cancer, heart disease or stroke. Is human disease really the biggest threat to our civilization? One might consider that mankind is at fault for bringing about such diseases through bad genes or poor lifestyle. Humankind requires some semblance of homeostasis on this vast planet to survive. What if the real threat is what humans are doing to planet earth?

Let’s take a look at a current phenomenon devastating the earth – the melting of ice. Occurring largely in the Antarctic and Greenland, the melting ice caps is one of the most serious threats mankind will face over the next century. The results produce a domino effect of global warming, rising sea levels, and flooding.

What makes these huge icebergs melt so fast?

The National Wildlife Federation explains how humans contribute to the issue:

Human activity – such as burning fossil fuels – causes more greenhouse gases to build up in the atmosphere. As the atmosphere “thickens” with more greenhouse gases, more heat is held in. Fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas are high in carbon and, when burned, produce major amounts of carbon dioxide or CO2.”

Industry and power plants contribute to a 30% increase of carbon dioxide production since the start of the industrial era leaving the planet in an unbalanced state. In addition to a steady change in climate, an additional layer is evolving in the atmosphere that is absorbing increased levels of radiation posing a threat to mankind’s journey into space.

In this way, the Earth’s temperature increases constantly. National Geographic measures a rise in global temperatures of 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years. The number seems negligible but we can already see seasonal deviations in certain parts of the world, wildlife habitat disruption, and of course the melting of our most polar regions causing a rise in sea levels.

What will happen when ice caps melt?

We already know that sea levels will rise significantly, but what some may not know is the chain of events that will follow. A rise in sea levels means flooding into the coastal areas where 39% of the world’s population call home. What’s more, the rise in sea water will affect our clean drinking water leading to water shortages and other complications.

As glaciers on the mountains melt, large regions whose water supply depends on glacier water will face severe issues. The glacier Quelccaya, located in Peru is the largest ice cap in the tropics. Quelccaya supplies water to the city of Lima (in Peru) and has recently been shrinking at a rate of 30 meters per year, compared to a shrink rate of only three meters in 1990.

In northern India where water supply is already a major issue, it is estimated that 500 million people depend on the water resources of the Indus and Ganges rivers. The melting of the Himalayas has already been responsible for record high water levels followed by record low water levels during the summer months posing a serious threat to the water supply.

Oversupply of water is another major issue. The melting ice has already resulted in serious flooding in highly populated areas. In 1985, Nepal suffered a catastrophic natural disaster where an ice avalanche detached and plummeted into the lake causing a 5-meter-high wave that overpowered the dam. Once again we mention the domino effect as the lake drained within a matter of hours, flooding inlands, adding casualties, and destroying properties. Many lakes that reside near glaciers are steadily increasing and are forecasted to overflow within the next decade – with the potential for similar disastrous results.

Polar Bears Take on Marathons

A female polar bear was measured to have swam almost 700 kilometers over nine days in search of food. It’s not the first story and it won’t be the last. Scientists studying around the Beaufort Sea have revealed that polar bears have been showing signs of adapting to changes in their habitat resulting from climate change. Researchers estimate that due to the melting of ice, the polar bears are forced to swim even greater distances to find food, endangering their health and their future population.

This particular female polar bear was tracked by researchers through a collar equipped with a GPS system.

American scientists have published their findings in a journal called Polar Biology, dedicated to biological research in polar regions. Marathon polar bear swims have been receiving a lot of attention due to the unbelievable distances being covered in one non-stop trip.

A New Global Map

In order to raise awareness on the effects of environmental damage, National Geographic has created an impressive interactive world map where you can see how the earth would be affected if all the ice on the planet melted. The map allows you to zoom in and out to get a close-up visual of how towns and villages could be affected by severe climate change.

A walk in the map of Greece, for example, is enough to cause heart palpitations and make us rethink the impact of climate change. As shown on the map, if you melt all the ice on Earth, all of western Peloponnese from Patras to Zacharo is found under water. In the north, water will consume Thessaloniki, Alexandroupolis and much of Halkidiki. Beautiful islands in the Ionian and Aegean Sea will be erased from the map.

This is a wake-up call for humanity to rise up and pay attention to global climate change. Spreading awareness is step one. What can be done? We know the main cause – fossil fuels. So the goal is to reduce the emission of fossil fuels by finding other ways to produce electricity. In addition, more effort could be put on the organic growth of food, rather than industrial farming and crops.

Mankind depends on this planet. If we have the power to destroy it, we have the power to repair it!

About Themitocles Vakrinas

Themistocles lives in Greece and has a lovely family with a wonderful son whose name is Andrew. He has studied mathematics at the University of Patras and also owns a master in Business Statistics from Athens University of Economics and Business. In his free time, he enjoys playing with Andrew and write articles, mainly on burning scientific issues and hot topics.

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