In recent years, the words 'climate change' and 'global warming' have taken on a more profound and relatable connotation than ever before. It has become commonplace to hear discussions and debates relating to these terms, as issues surrounding our global environment become paramount.
Human technologies are expanding and the world population is booming, but there are sequential changes occurring on our planet that cannot go unnoticed. The need for food, material possessions, and living space is forever growing, and this has meant that much of the earth's surface is being occupied, developed, and stripped bare to make more room for infrastructure.
Even our oceans, the major regulators of global climate, are struggling to cope under incessant exploitation, pollution and huge levels of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2).
During the last few centuries, the ocean has absorbed nearly 1/2 of all the CO2 produced by human activity. In fact, since the Industrial Revolution which saw a global expansion in technology, agriculture, and mining, the ocean has ingested an estimated 525 billion tons of Carbon Dioxide.
Climate change explained
Climate change is a broad term to explain a significant shift in the earth's circulatory systems and temperature regulating patterns. In short, weather around the world experiences a lasting change. Climate change can be felt on a global scale or manifest in a general region.
Global warming refers to a particular rise in the earth's temperature, and is symptomatic of climate change. The warming of our planet is likely the environmental reality for which humans bare the most concern.
Human impacts and the climate
Attributing specific causes for climate change is a difficult task; however, human activity has transformed the world we live in and the environment we need to survive.
With time, releasing immeasurable amounts of Greenhouse gases (CO2) into the atmosphere has completely saturated our environment. While our oceans struggle to absorb the increase of Carbon Dioxide in the air, our land mass is being stripped of Oxygen-giving forests. Deforestation is a major contributor to climate shifts. Aerosols are suspended particles in our air that, in high concentrations, are known to cause cooling effects. Aerosols expressed mainly in the form of "black carbon" are the result of Industrial air pollution and burning biomass (deforestation fires).
The impacts of climate change are nowhere more prevalent but in our world's oceans. Given that water covers the planet almost entirely, is is the main regulator of our global climate. Oceans naturally store the most heat and circulate this heat around the world, balancing weather patterns everywhere.
Consequently, effects of climate change such as global warming will impact the ocean drastically: Ocean acidification, altered circulatory patterns, and warmer oceans are just some of the internal changes shifting our global oceans out of balance.
Some areas on the planet naturally experience extreme weather patterns, such as the Arctic and Antarctic regions. These polar locations are synonymous with freezing temperatures and land masses made up entirely of ice. Mountains of ice, Glaciers, rise up from icy seas, and are the single most sensitive indicators of climate change.
The size of glaciers is directly correlated and controlled by the surrounding temperature, which is either contributing (e.g.snowfall) or reducing (e.g.melting) the total mass of the ice mount. By studying the changes in glacier activity, humans can better understand the effects global warming is having in areas especially responsive to climate changes.
Faced with rising seas, could the low-lying island nation of the Maldives become the first country to lose its land to Global warming?
The Maldives are a series of islands made up of two double chains of Atolls. The latter are coral islands which encircle a lagoon and can also be described as the summit of undersea mountain ranges. Set in the Indian ocean south-west of Sri Lanka and India, the Maldives encompass a total of 1,192 islands of which 200 are inhabited.
Climate change is a huge concern for this nation given the fact that it is the lowest lying country in the world, averaging at only 1.5 meters above sea level. The Maldivian government has expressed much concern for what a continued rise in sea level might mean for the country, as predictions estimate a 59 centimeter addition to sea levels by 2100.
President of the Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed is speaking openly about safeguarding his country's future by saving funds for a new potential homeland, as well as committing to being the first carbon neutral country by 2020. Preparing for the possibility of becoming "climate refugees" is wise considering the growing impacts of global warming.
Facing complete inundation, Nasheed has been exploring opportunities for land in Australia, Sri Lanka, and India. Could our climate future literally force nations from their native soil?
In light of the forceable challenges the Maldives face, Mr.Nasheed's words resonate a message of hope, stewardship, and resolve to act upon our global environmental problems now:
'...countries that swear off fossil fuels will be free of unpredictable foreign oil prices, capitalize on the new green economy of the future, and enhance moral standing giving them greater political standing on the world stage...'
In time, the entire world will meet the impacts of global warming head on, face to face; a time when governments, leaders, and dominating corporations will no longer have the luxury of putting a band-aid on one of the biggest challenges our planet is facing. Moving towards improving our carbon emissions, widespread pollution and incessant environmental exploitation must be upgraded to a powerful and united commitment to put an end to our actions. Simply stop and restore.
With realities like sinking nations and melting polar regions, acting now is more crucial than ever before.
Climate change has had some powerful effects on our global environment, but none are more extreme than in our polar regions.
As the earth warms, locations built of ice and snow are experiencing transformative changes. Melting ice turns land mass to water and native animals are forced to adapt to their disappearing surroundings in order to survive.
Polar Bears are one of the most vulnerable species to climate change.
Along with the Grizzly bear, Polar bears are the largest predators on land, and the top carnivores in the Arctic. Their source of nutrition includes seals, walruses, and whales; namely foods rich in fat stores! Recently, Polar bears have been seen attacking and feeding on new species, including native Arctic birds and their chicks.
Climate change is warming the Arctic region, and with warmer seas the ice and glaciers are shrinking, melting, and challenging animals like Polar bears in many ways. Searching for food in the freezing north is already a laborious and time consuming affair. With current conditions shifting in the Arctic, Polar bears are having to swim longer distances than ever before in search of food, some even traveling hundreds of Kilometers at sea hoping to hit new ground with available prey. Bear cubs are especially vulnerable to these journeys, often not surviving the hard and long swims.
Polar bears are predatory animals capable of going without food for multiple months. They wander along ice platforms and swim to various locations in search of a good meal. Polar bears use sea ice to hunt seals, which use the solid mass to rest. These days, with less ice in the Arctic, Polar bears are experiencing extreme periods of starvation, and are likely to become 'nutritionally stressed'. Inability to feed on typical food sources is forcing bears to not only explore new species for consumption, but they are also venturing inland in greater numbers.
Established Arctic communities are also having to adapt to global warming and significant changes to their surrounding environment. As temperatures rise and hunting becomes more challenging, humans and polar bears are coming into contact more than ever before.
Venturing further inland means Polar Bears are reaching human settlements, and very rarely, in desperate need of nourishment, attacking humans. Considering the Arctic nations of Russia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Norway, research has proven Polar bears are more often the victims of human attacks. Hunting Polar bears still takes place in the Arctic, with some killings recorded as acts of self-defense against the bears.
While climate change is having formidable impacts in the Arctic, global warming is going to continue and will pose a real threat to Polar bear survival. This species is already under pressure with a decrease in average bear sizes, fewer pregnancies, and a higher cub mortality rate becoming prevalent. Populations of Polar bears are declining and continued warming of Arctic waters could trigger a dramatic reduction in bear populations. It is believed that fewer bears will be able to survive ice-free seasons in the Arctic, and we could eventually lose one of the most special animals on earth.
To read more on this important topic, please link to these articles from National Geographic and the BBC's (British Broadcasting Corporation) nature section: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/07/110720-polar-bears-global-warming-sea-ice-science-environment/, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14415592
Commonly known as the "Unicorn of the Sea", the Narwhal is a fascinating and unique resident of the Arctic waters around Canada and Greenland.
The Narwhal's unique appearance is due to a huge tusk, a second tooth, that grows out of the animal's top jaw. Reaching lengths of 2.5 meters and weighing up to 10 Kilograms, this 'unicorn' has no formal use and has never been seen as a fighting tools in males.
Perfectly adapted for life in the Arctic, Narwhals use echolocation to map our holes in the ice so they can reach the surface for a breath. Staying close to loose pack ice, Narwhals must be very precise in order to find enough breathing holes to survive.
Narwhals are still hunted by the Inuit people of Canada for their tusks and meat, and are especially vulnerable to the impacts of Climate Change on the Arctic environment.