This week the UN climate change conference of Copenhagen started. One of the areas where climate change is most visible is the Arctic. During the last two decennia the Arctic pack ice has almost halved at its minimum. This year there was little more as the previous two, but it was still far less as the long year average.
But why bother about a bit loss of ice? First of all, the pack ice is the core of the Arctic ecosystem, comparable of the soil in a forest. When the soil disappears, the forest will also disappear. Almost all life there is connected to this ice, directly of indirectly. A lot of algae grow underneath the ice and are grazed upon by small crustaceans. These crustaceans are predated on by small fish. All this happens under the ice. Now sea birds, seals and Polar Bears feed on those fish. Those seabirds breed on land, where they fertilize the soil underneath their colonies so flowers can grow and a land ecosystem is started.
But all this starts with the pack ice.
Secondly, the Arctic ice acts as a large mirror. 80-90% of the incoming sunlight is reflected back into space without having any warming effects. When the ice melts, the mirror gets smaller and less light is reflected. Water reflects only 10-20% of the incoming sunlight, so much of the sunlight is absorbed and transferred into heat. This makes the Arctic warm up at a higher speed as other parts of this world. And as all climate systems on earth are linked, a large change of the climate at high latitudes will have an effect on the global climate.
But it’s not too late yet. If we act now and change the way we live a bit we might stop climate change and keep the changes limited. For this we will need the politics to come up with a good agreement in Copenhagen, but we can also make a change ourselves e.g. by saving energy (pdf) in our daily life.