Arctic greening is the emergence of greenery and vegetation in arctic regions that have been under ice for thousands of years. It is a phenomenon that environmental scientists are keenly keeping tabs on for two reasons. This is the first time the earth has experienced arctic greening in over eight hundred thousand years. Two, it is potentially going to change the earth’s climate for the foreseeable future radically.
An Overview of Global Warming Temperatures
Much of the climate change going on right now is attributed to the “greenhouse effect.” This means that most of the gases released into the atmosphere as a by-product of human activity prevent heat from escaping into space. They turn the earth’s atmosphere into a massive greenhouse where light can penetrate, but heat cannot dissipate. Thus, they create a greenhouse-like environment where heat from the sun has nowhere to go, so it gradually drives up the earth’s average atmospheric temperature.
In 1824, Joseph Fourier discovered the greenhouse effect and concluded that it makes the earth a habitable planet. His assessment was correct because, without heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere, the earth would be too cold to support life. About seventy years later, in 1895, a Swedish chemist named Svante Arrhenius discovered that carbon-dioxide could enhance the greenhouse effect and was possibly behind the warm, habitable atmosphere of the earth. His assessment was also true. Carbon dioxide has been a part of the earth’s atmosphere ever since there was an atmosphere.
So, why have global average temperatures, which have stayed fairly consistent throughout the history of the earth, started going up at an unprecedented rate over the past 150 years?
According to recent statistics, the current greenhouse gas level in the atmosphere is higher than it has ever been in the last 800,000 years. Along with a rise in average global temperatures, the greenhouse effect dramatically affected the earth’s climate. It is behind extreme weather shifts, rising sea levels, melting ice glaciers, and shifting wildlife populations, to mention a few of its most significant impacts.
Even more worrying is that the ice in the Arctic has begun to thaw due to the persistently high global average temperatures. As a result, the entire arctic ecosystem is in disarray, but what worries scientists more is that this is a precursor of worse things to come.
The Arctic is Getting Greener: That’s Bad News for All of Us
Much of the change in the arctic circle over the past century and a half may have gone undocumented. During winter, for instance, the region experiences darkness for 24 hours a day. Because of this studying, the Arctic using satellites has been an ongoing challenge for scientists, as ecologist Jeffery Kerby explains.
However, with the help of remote-controlled drones, they have managed to see exactly what is happening in the arctic—and it is nothing good.
The Arctic is transforming. After hours of scouring the landscape, researchers have noted the emergence of taller native species, a change that’s indicative of a hike in the region’s average temperature.
Ecologist Isla Myers-Smith explains that such a change cannot be affected by invasive wildlife species, but rather, it affects the warming climate. Her main concern is that soon, the plant species in the tundra will start to evolve differently, which will greatly impact the frozen soils in the arctic, and more importantly, the carbon contained in them.
Worrying as the current climate change is, scientists are dreading a particularly lethal climate feedback loop—one that involves the thawing of permafrost. Permafrost is ice that has been frozen for thousands of years. Contained within it are the remnants of dead plant material from the past, and consequently, more carbon and methane deposits may be released into the atmosphere if the ice melts.
The thawing of permafrost will have devastating effects on the earth, too, not just its atmosphere. Melting ice turns into water, which means rising sea levels. It also means that Arctic plant species, with renewed access to copious amounts of water, will begin to thrive, grow faster, and make the arctic even greener as time goes by, resulting in a deadly, compounding effect.
The overarching concern for scientists is that permafrost contains approximately twice as much carbon currently present in the atmosphere.
Global Warming Temperatures Are Driving Arctic Greening
Global change ecologist Logan Berner from the Northern Arizona University calls arctic greening “a biome-scale response” to the rapid warming of earth’s air temperatures. The Arctic tundra is among the coldest places on earth and is now one of the most rapidly warming regions.
According to this study, which measures vegetation across the whole Arctic Tundra (from Alaska to Siberia), there has been a 38% increase in greenness between 1985 and 2016.
Changes in the tundra vegetation could mean a lot of things. For example, it can affect the wildlife dependent on specific plants and the people who depend on these animals and plants for sustenance.
Even though plants absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and replace them with oxygen, there is growing concern over the greenhouse gases trapped within the permafrost. The continuous warming of the globe will eventually lead to thawing permafrost, culminating in releasing millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) aims to understand how ecosystems cope with the earth’s warming environments, plus the economic and social implications of climate change. Currently, their research shows that more regions in the Arctic Tundra turned green (22%) than brown (4%) between 2000 and 2016. The changes (greening) appear along with increases in summer air temperatures, but researchers have also linked these greening patterns to higher soil temperatures and more available soil moisture.
10 Ways to Stop Global Warming and Reduce Earth’s Temperature
The Three R’s
Reduce, reuse, and recycle whenever you can. Part of the problem is the ever-growing consumption of processed and manufactured items that ultimately generate more waste to get rid of. Landfills are some of the biggest contributors to air pollution, and plastic items take over a hundred years to biodegrade.
Carry your own shopping bags, buy a reusable water bottle, and avoid purchasing items with too much packaging. There are several areas in which you can reduce your consumption, be it of water, energy, or non-recyclable materials.
Clean Renewable Energy
Clean energy is the way forward if we want to cut down carbon emissions. Solar, wind, and geothermal energy are fast becoming appropriate alternatives for coal and diesel-generated power.
They produce no pollutants and are renewable energy sources that can sustain humankind for the next several thousand years if we invest in them now.
Plants absorb carbon from the atmosphere and use it to make their own food. They also pump more oxygen into the atmosphere. We’re not going to bring down global temperatures by planting forests alone, but it is a tremendous step in the right direction.
Reduce Consumption of Processed Items
Many of the items we “need” these days are either processed or manufactured. These processes require energy, which is most likely generated by a carbon-emitting system like those we’ve mentioned above.
If everyone cut down their consumption by half, that means we’ll cut down on the carbon emissions resulting from these processes.
It takes lots of energy to filter and pump water into our homes. The more of it we waste, the more energy is needed to make more, and the larger the carbon footprint it leaves. Therefore, conserve water whenever you can. Turn it off while brushing your teeth, fix leaky faucets, and limit your shower time to 5 minutes is possible. Every drop counts.
Cars emit tons of carbon into the atmosphere, but we can’t argue that they aren’t crucial to the modern world’s development and sustenance. Still, you’ll be doing a lot to stop global warming if you drive less frequently. Consider carpooling, walking, riding a bike, or even using public transportation instead.
Plastic is the most common pollutant on earth. It is tough to dispose of but very easy to reuse and recycle. Alternatively, you can cease using plastic whenever possible to reduce the pollution of the environment.
The need for more energy is probably the biggest reason for global warming right now. Coal and oil plants release copious amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and there’s not much we can do except switch to using cleaner energy. Alternatively, you can practice energy conservation by turning off the light whenever you leave a room and switching off appliances when you’re not home.
Eat Fresh Produce
Processing food takes energy as well, so having your own garden for fresh produce is good for the environment. Not only that, but eating non-processed foods is good for your health and can extend your lifespan.
Lastly, talk about global warming to your friends and family and urge them to adopt greener practices. It’s going to take a collective human effort to bring down global temperatures, so get as many people involved as you can.
Seasonal Dependence of the Effect of Arctic Greening
The Arctic greening won’t just affect the Tundra, and its effects will be felt across the globe. More severely affected will be the tropics. Changes in arctic vegetation will cause some significant weather changes along the tropics, and it is all because of how the arctic surface absorbs (or deflects) heat from the sun.
With the increasing vegetative cover, the arctic has a less reflective surface during summer and during winter a more reflective one. After all, the vegetation changes in a seasonal cycle—much like it happens everywhere else. Scientists expect that the irregular energy input caused by the vegetation change, which is very recent and alien to the perennially cool environment of the Arctic Tundra, will have a noticeable impact on the region’s remote climate.
At the least, they are expecting large seasonal variations as a result of arctic greening, which will likely manifest as shifts in tropical precipitation. These climate changes will potentially affect billions of people living in the tropics and are expected to alter various terrestrial productivity patterns.
How to Save the Arctic Greening’s Moderating Role on Global Warming
As it currently is, the arctic is critical to the stability of the earth’s climate. Not only do its reflective ice seas deflect solar radiation back to space, but its permafrost contains massive pockets of carbon dioxide and methane, which will be released if it melts. The arctic is the weakest link to our climate’s stability. Its destruction could potentially have an irreversible impact on the climate that will steadily compound into a catastrophe of epic proportions.
We can currently do three things to maintain the Arctic’s moderating role in the global climate. First, we can strive to reduce emissions of short-term pollutants, a practice that’s already in full swing in California. Global warming will continue in perpetuity if we don’t change the way we live, including producing energy and transport items and people.
Second, we can remove excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through natural and artificial means. Planting forests and vegetation will dramatically aid in this measure, and scientists are ready to deploy various methods to expunge carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a commercial scale.
Finally, we should invest in mechanically capturing carbon dioxide from the air as it is being produced. This is one of humanity’s most important goals because we will need to remove up to a trillion tons of carbon dioxide before the next century to survive our planet.
The Bottom Line
Arctic greening is cause for considerable alarm as the Arctic Tundra may be the final thread that’s holding together our delicate and deeply disrupted climate. With the loss of the vital icy landscape comes the threat of increased solar heat absorption, rising sea levels, and the release of dangerous greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane—which is 84 times worse than carbon.
Luckily, there is still time to do something about it. Stopping global warming will require a collective effort from everyone, but you must spread awareness of the ongoing threat to our planet and its species before that. It takes being proactive and conscious to stop the waste, pollution, and consumption driving up global temperatures and slowly killing the only planet we can call home.