As the geography of the polar regions dramatically alters due to the warming climate, the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology (IMarEST) highlights several major issues arising from these changes, their impacts, and the actions that need to be taken.
According to IMarEST, the increased human activity is one of the most vital causes that lead to the melting of large ice-sheets in the Antarctic and Greenland.
May the receding sea-ice opens up new passages for shipping (both for cargo transport and tourism), making it previously inaccessible sources of fossil fuels accessible, this increased activity has a range of consequences.
Specifically, IMarEST believes that shipping provides a pathway for invasive species to enter the region and disturb its ecology. Moreover, due to the fact that these regions are poorly charted there is a lack of safe navigation. As a result, navigation is further impeded by climate heating causing erratic behavior of sea-ice, which moves unpredictably compared to historical data.
The sea level is another major issue. With vast amounts of meltwater flowing into the oceans from thawing glaciers, ice-sheets are accelerating global sea level rise. This threatens the people who live and work in coastal areas in many countries, not just those in high latitudes.
Sea level rise will cause widespread economic and social disruption, from the cost of constructing defences and upgrading buildings and infrastructure to make them more resilient, to the consequences of population displacement.
At the same time, the changing ecosystems is another issue that has occurred. The Arctic and Southern Oceans hoover up vast quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but, in doing so, become more acidic. This affects the development of krill, corals and crustaceans that form the foundations of the marine food-web.
We aren’t sure exactly how, and over what timescales, these changes will develop, as there are simply too many variables, mechanisms and feedback loops involved to make easy predictions. Much will depend on the continued rate and magnitude of climate heating at a global level. What is clear is that the polar environment of tomorrow will look very different from today.