If the Arctic had no ice, would it still be called the Arctic?
That silly question could be an actual dilemma faced by researchers in the years ahead, as the ice that makes the Arctic what it is disappears.
A new report from the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipates this new world with a new term, “New Arctic.”
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In the report, the group argues that the “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades,” according to Grist.
In this era of climate change, the Arctic has arguably faced the starkest consequences, Grist reports.
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Temperatures in the Arctic have been rising twice as fast as the global average, causing the region’s ice to shrink 7.4% every decade since 1979, an average decrease of 28,000 square miles every year.
The rapid melt is creating feedback loops that further accelerate the melting.
For instance, when ice melts in the Arctic, it turns into water, which absorbs more sunlight and heat because of its darker color and therefore increases in temperature, leading to more ice melt, according to NOAA.
Also, many massive glaciers have “anchors” that keep trillions of tons of ice from sliding into the ocean. If these anchors collapse and fail, as is happening in the Arctic, then the entire glacier is jeopardized.
The demise of the Arctic has implications for the entire world, Grist notes.
“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic — it affects the rest of the planet,” acting NOAA Administrator Timothy Gallaudet said in a recent press conference.
Most immediately, all of this melting ice will dramatically lift sea levels around the world, inundating coastal communities and displacing up to two billion people.
It will also disrupt wildlife around the world by disrupting atmospheric climate patterns, ocean currents, and the distribution of marine and terrestrial life, according to NOAA.
Another consequence will be the rapid release of more greenhouse gases that are currently locked in ice and permafrost. If unlocked, these gases could further accelerate climate change and endanger the planet.
Many more consequences are expected to occur and many consequences are unknown. Scientists do know, however, that the New Arctic will likely be worse than the old Arctic.