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  • Thomas Enzendorfer

The Arctic Is Burning & These Are The Effects

As Alaska is suffering from the hottest summer on record and heating up faster than other states, we are starting to see an increase in wildfires in Alaska and beyond, with devastating consequences for the climate. Scientists around the world, including in the U.S. government, predict the warming will continue unless countries drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in coming years. In regards to the Arctic going up in flames, ice cover is especially important to protect. Ice cover holds climate history and snow cover reflects about 80 to 90% of the sun’s energy back into the atmosphere allowing it to help regulate the exchange of heat between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere, thus cooling the planet. Ice cover also contribute to rivers and reservoirs, which both humans and animals depend on. Also, the more the ice melts, the more likely bacteria is expected to thrive, which accelerates the melting even more.

Wildfire risk depends on a number of factors, including soil moisture, temperature, and the presence of trees, shrubs, and other potential fuel. All these factors have strong direct or indirect ties to climate variability and climate change. Once a fire starts, warmer temperatures and drier conditions can help them spread and make them harder to put out. U.S. Forest Service fire suppression expenditures have risen from 16 percent of the agency’s appropriated budget to more than 50 percent. State wildfire expenditures have also increased substantially. These fires also increase the risk to life, property, and public health. Smoke reduces air quality and can cause eye and respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly.

Through July, wildfires in the Arctic region, including Siberia and Alaska, had emitted 125 metric megatons of CO2 — the highest of any year-to-date since such monitoring began in 2003. Much of northern and central Alaska is covered by permanently frozen soil known as permafrost. When this icy soil melts, the organic matter within it decomposes and releases long-buried stores of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane. Using a combination of computer models and field measurements, Walter Anthony and an international team of U.S. and German researchers found that abrupt thawing more than doubles previous estimates of permafrost-derived greenhouse warming. They found that the abrupt thaw process increases the release of ancient carbon stored in the soil 125 to 190 percent compared to gradual thawing alone. (NASA) This runaway methane effect caused by permafrost melt releases additional methane into the atmosphere which was trapped below for millennia. Keeping this permafrost healthy is dire for our planet.

Wildfire and ice melt, consequences of climate change, both accelerate ecosystem changes and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—contributing to further climate change. This is a feedback cycle that can only be changed through resilience techniques and cutting off our carbon footprint. As the west coast and Arctic wildfires worsen, the hot air moves north, impacting Greenland’s melting ice sheet, which covers roughly 80% of its surface. The country’s rapidly melting ice could eventually mean catastrophic sea-level rise, impacting almost every major coastal city in the world. The world’s future depends on much of the Arctic. Let’s support research, resilience, and demand a clean future in order to take care of it.

*Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

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