‘Irreversible’ damage done to parts of Arctic climate, says latest report

Sea ice is past the point of no return as far as changes go
Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 8:22 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The second in a two-part report regarding the latest state of Earth’s climate was released earlier this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, underscoring how Alaska and the Arctic are already feeling the impacts of climate change.

“Irreversible” is the word used in the report to describe the damage done by our warming climate over the past 50 years in regard to sea ice.

The report says while the loss of sea ice, especially in the summer, would be beneficial to shipping and commerce, such a loss, with no hope in returning to levels observed in the past 50 to 100 years, despite the most drastic mitigation efforts, has significant implications on Arctic species, such as polar bears and whales. That’s in addition to the everyday lives of residents of coastal villages in terms of their homes, and critical infrastructure.

“As we lose our sea ice, the storms that come along can kick up waves, and cause coastal flooding and erosion, much more often than in the past,” said John Walsh, Ph.D. and chief scientist of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center. “So the net effect is that flooding and erosion are likely to increase mainly because of the sea ice loss.”

With regard to temperature, Walsh says that summers, such as the historically hot and smoky one of 2019, that in the past were a once-in-a-lifetime event, will “very likely” become more common in the future.

“You can expect that to happen five to 10 times in the next 50 years, which would be a once every 10 years or so, rather than a once in 50 years,” Walsh said. “And other types of extreme events on the warm side are in that category of five to 10 times more likely.”

This would include more ice storms rather than snowstorms in winter, just like the crippling one Fairbanks experienced this past Christmas.

Even though the report outlines some irreversible scenarios, Walsh says that each person can still work on a daily basis to reduce their individual carbon footprint in order to help offset some of the warming that is still ongoing.

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