Tim Blagg

Polar ice? What polar ice?

Shrinking ice caps a worrisome prospect

Don’t look now, but that big ice cap up north at the North Pole is shrinking.

In fact, it’s about half the size it was back in the 1980s.

To be precise, the ice cap at the North Pole now measures some 1.32 million square miles, compared with 1.61 million square miles in 2007. In the ’80s, summer ice would typically cover an area slightly smaller than the lower 48 states of the U.S. Now it is about half that size.

Why should we care?

Well, for one thing, the Earth’s ice caps hold enormous amounts of water, and when that water is released, it goes into the oceans, which then rise, flooding low-lying areas.

For another, this is just more clear evidence that our climate is changing, despite all of the hoorah being spouted by right-wing government-haters.

Since most of our population lives within a few miles of a coastline, losing property to flooding is a serious business.

And then there’s the Gulf Stream.

See, the Stream and its associated deep current are part of a gigantic water circulation pattern in the Atlantic. It carries warm water up from the tropics, moves along the East Coast of the U.S. (bring incredible fishing with it), sweeps past Newfoundland and Iceland, then turns south past Great Britain and Europe to travel south and pick up more warm water for another circuit.

It’s the reason Great Britain and adjacent areas of Europe aren’t as cold as, say, the Canadian Maritime provinces, which are at the same latitude.

Disrupt that current and you’ve got real trouble on your hands.

Theoretically, Britain and its neighbors could plunge into a mini ice age, with accompanying famine.

How could such an enormous body of moving water be halted or repositioned?

By enormous amounts of fresh water from polar ice, that’s how.

Will it happen?

Nobody knows, but the potential is enough to bring climate scientists wide awake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

And don’t forget that the ice that covers Antarctica is also melting, adding to the world oceans’ volume.

Yes, it’s a serious matter that shrinking arctic ice also threatens the polar bear population and other species.

But it could also threaten us.

What can we do?

Increase efforts to decrease our contribution of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

And hope for the best.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 Ext. 250.

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