Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 391, 9 June 2021

The Arctic: New report on accelerated melt and its consequences
Rashmi B R

In the news
On 4 June, a new study titled "Faster decline and higher variability in the sea ice thickness of the marginal Arctic seas when accounting for dynamic snow cover" was published by researchers in the reputed journal the Cryosphere. Using computer models to produce snow cover estimates from 2002-2018, the study analyzed the declining snow depth for the first time and concluded that the Arctic sea ice is melting twice as fast as previously estimated.

The research combined the results obtained by SnowModel-LG and satellite data and found that the rate of decline of sea ice thickness in three Arctic seas- Laptev, Kara and Chukchi, increased by 70, 98 and 110 per cent respectively in the considered time period.
 
Issues at large
First, the intersection of the Arctic and the world climate processes. Environmentally unsustainable actions impact the Arctic, and in turn, changes in the region will influence other parts of the globe. Polar vortex, changes in monsoon patterns in the Indian subcontinent, increase in sea level are some of the manifestations of this intersection. 

Second, concerns over the Arctic melt. The region is certainly experiencing disproportionate effects of climate change, warming three times faster than the global average. Over the years, scientists have observed a decrease in the extent of sea ice, with a mere two per cent of the oldest ice covers existing, as opposed to 20 per cent in the 1980s. Older and thicker ice is being replaced by younger and thinner ice, a common trend now in the Arctic. The Climate Change Impact Assessment, a landmark study, reported a decreasing albedo, which implies more absorption of solar radiation. Extreme weather conditions, increased heat, ocean acidification, coastal erosion, flooding, wildfires, unusual lightning and precipitation are some of the serious signs of climate change being witnessed.

Third, Arctic governance. A greater aspect of the governance in the region is focused on climate change and the effects the region is facing. Most institutions in the Arctic are founded based on scientific cooperation to frame policies to mitigate climate change and support adaptation. There is increasing global attention on the regional developments and thus the participation of non-Arctic European countries and Asian countries like India, China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
 
In perspective
First, despite some pathbreaking studies on the Arctic, actions being taken by the stakeholders are not sufficient.  Second, indigenous knowledge, experiences and perspectives should be taken into consideration and translated into tangible actions.  Third, unsustainable economic activities by the Arctic countries themselves should be reconsidered, given the threats associated.  Fourth, the consequences of a rapidly melting Arctic are multi-layered. There is a clear, profound impact on the ecology, politics, economics and society of the region. In this regard, studies such as the above are a welcome move and a step in the right direction.

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