It is said that there are some things in our world which, if damaged once, will make the Earth unlivable. If anything happens to these resources, there will be no going back, and our Earth will never be the same. The Arctic ecosystem is one among those. Climate change is creating a lot of issues at a fast pace. Let’s see how climate change is affecting the Arctic Ecosystem?
This is important because just like how our refrigerators at home help keep the food fresh for longer, the cold Arctic is our refrigerator on this planet. The Arctic ecosystem consists of a family of bacteria, plants, animals both on land and underwater. All of these are connected through their food chain, i.e., a relationship based on which organism eats what.
Climate Change Impact on Arctic Ecosystems
Below are points on how climate change is affecting the Arctic Ecosystem:
The phenomenon of ‘Arctic Amplification’
In the past three decades, the Arctic region has seen a level of warming which is two times faster than the other areas of the world; This is called Arctic amplification. This tendency is evidence of the rapid climate change that is happening to our planet.
The impact of climate change on the Arctic ecosystem is especially visible because arctic amplification is changing things on this part of the planet at a speed never seen before.
Scientists first observed the changes in the 1980s, and since then, the ice cover over the Arctic Ocean has reduced a lot, and glaciers are melting too.
Melting of permafrost:
The ecosystem of the arctic region is limited by low temperature. The constant low temperature has created permafrost, which is the frozen layer of soil. Over the years, a huge amount of dead organic matter and frozen matter has been stored in these permafrost regions.
Scientists are afraid that if these melt, then the amount of emissions will be so great that it will fundamentally speed up climate change.
Carbon dioxide and Methane emissions will be so high that the effect on the arctic ecosystem will be dangerous.
Scientists have framed a term called ‘feedback mechanism.’ This mechanism happens when climate change warms the environment leading to more emission of greenhouse gases and thereby raising the temperature even more.
Impact on Arctic Vegetation:
The plant species which are accustomed to the Arctic region function quite differently in comparison to vegetation in warmer areas. This happens because these plants can thrive in almost zero temperatures or even lesser.
The nutrition which these plants can receive is limited due to permafrost. There is a thin layer of soil that melts every summer and allows a little growth. But, other than that, there is not enough nutrition. Arctic plants have adapted to this.
Climate change has the power to impact this adaptive learning. It can severely alter the environmental factors to which these plants have become used to.
Growth season may become longer, snow will melt earlier than usual, and rainfall patterns will change. The productivity will change, and decomposition rates will become faster with climate change in the arctic region. This is how climate change is affecting arctic vegetation.
The tree line will move further north, which can suppress plants already growing over there. Not just this, as the vegetation will change with climate change in the arctic region, species will suffer too.
Impact of climate change on animals in the Arctic region:
Due to a long-term relationship between plants and insects, insect pollination has become a useful phenomenon in the ecosystem of the arctic. This relationship is vulnerable to climate change.
If the climate becomes warm, the flowering cycle of plants will change. However, the lifecycle of insects will remain the same. Therefore, plants might go extinct along with insects.
As the temperature in the Arctic region gets warm, insect species from southern regions will migrate and disturb the existing species population leading to their eventual extinction.
Mammals will benefit in the summer as they will have more food to eat, but climate change will bring harsher winters too. Mammals will suffer a lot during such winters.
The level of snow is especially important for animals like musk oxen and reindeers. Polar bears are dependent on sea ice. They need the ice to hunt for their food in the seas.
As the ice will melt, seals will become lesser in population, and therefore, Polar bears won’t have enough food. They might even face severe food shortages.
Furthermore, the animals dependent on the role of Polar bears in the arctic ecosystem will be affected too as the Arctic ecosystem is complex.
According to some statistics, in September 2014, 35000 Walruses came on to the Alaska shore because of a loss of sea ice. Hence we can see how climate change is affecting the Arctic ecosystem.
Impact of climate change on birds in Arctic ecosystem:
The Arctic ecosystem does not have a lot of birds, and therefore the impact of climate change on birds will be indirect. Mostly, the migrating birds will get affected.
As coastal lines will move upwards due to ice melting, the resting and nesting site of birds will see de-stabilization.
Areas around the arctic may see drought-like conditions, and this will be fatal for the bird population.
Climate change is turning a complex web of food chains and the ecosystem of the Arctic onto its head; This is harmful to our future generations in more ways than one.
Impact of Climate change on the marine life of Arctic Ecosystem:
As the sea temperature rises, the growth of phytoplankton and algae in the marine ecosystem is disturbed. As ice will melt, algal blooms will move inwards or disappear. This will severely harm the fish population because the primary food of fish is these phytoplanktons.
We know that ocean acts as a carbon sink. They have a tremendous capacity to absorb the carbon dioxide released into the environment. However, this also means that the acidity in oceans will increase. And therefore, oceans will become inhabitable for the marine population.
Coral reefs are vulnerable to temperature changes, and they die if the ocean becomes warmer than usual or more acidic. This means the millions of biodiversity living in these coral reefs will die too.
Marine species tend to absorb toxins in the water into their skin. These toxins are passed on through the food chain and ultimately enter humans in the form of seafood. This process is already happening, but climate change affects the arctic marine ecosystem more than the others.
A higher temperature due to climate change will increase the rate at which these toxins enter the marine food chain.
Introduction of new diseases and parasites:
Lastly, the impact of climate change on the arctic region is also seen as new types of parasites enter into the Arctic ecosystem.
This happens as new species migrate to Arctic areas with temperature change. The melting of Arctic sea ice is also making the area attractive to countries interested in mining for resources.
As the human population is drawn towards the earlier inaccessible arctic regions, they also bring a host of new parasites and viruses into the environment. The Arctic system does not recognize how to fight these new biological elements, and slowly all the species are affected.
Diseases in marine species are seen more specifically because the major change is happening in the aquatic ecosystem due to climate change. As mentioned earlier, the uptake of toxins does not just make the seafood harmful for humans but also makes the marine animals sick.
Marine animals, especially predators, are also exposed to contaminants and pollutants released by the newly emerging industrial activities.
Despite major changes happening in the arctic system due to climate change, there is good news too. Countries of the Arctic region have formed an Arctic Council consisting of eight countries, including the United States. They are collectively working on preserving the ecosystem of the Arctic region against climate change.
With collective efforts and keeping an eye out for what is happening in the precious Arctic ecosystem, we all can protect it from the impact of climate change.