Long thought to be a continent covered in ice like Antarctica, we now know the Arctic is a small land mass covered by ice that spreads well out from the land. Put another way, the area is mostly a giant flow of ice. It is so large, it is four times the size of Texas. As has been reported in the news recently, it is melting at a fairly alarming rate.
66-33 is the magic number. Everything above it is considered the Arctic Circle, which puts parts of countries such as Russia and Canada within the circle. Greenland is included in this group, an island covered in over one mile thick slabs of ice.
The Arctic Ocean surrounds and submerges under the massive ice flow. Although the ocean is the smallest in the world, roughly eight percent the size of the Pacific, more fish live in it and along the edges than in any other ocean.
Although Antarctica and the Arctic seem similar at first glance, they are strikingly different. The Arctic has animals, plants and people living on it throughout the year. Antarctica has none of these things with the exception of penguins, which bread on the ice in Antarctica. Whereas Antarctica is nearly always below freezing, temperatures in the Arctic can get as high a 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Of course, they plunge far into the negatives in the winter, but why quibble.
Surprising to many, the Arctic receives very little snow from the atmosphere. Total precipitation for the year averages only 8 inches. This makes the current melting of the ice flow somewhat troubling. In the last two decades, the Arctic has lost over six percent of the ice flow to melting. The amorphous greenhouse gases and global warming are blamed or refuted depending on your particular point of view. What isn’t debated, however, is the climatic impact of all this new water.
The oceans of the Earth are actually one body of water. Through this body of water flows a monstrously long current known as the Conveyer. This current controls climates because it circles the entire globe and brings warm water to areas that would otherwise be very cold. The warm water stabilizes and warms the climate in such places as Europe. Nobody is exactly sure how much fresh water is being added by the melting of the Arctic, but recent evidence shows it is negatively impacting the conveyor.
The nature of the conveyer is beyond this article, but the massive fresh water is slowing it down. Recent evidence shows it may have lost up to 40 percent of its pace. If it stops or reverses, which has occurred numerous times in the history of the planet, climates will change all over the world. These changes would occur quickly, often within five to ten years. Temperatures in Europe would drop 20 degrees, while other areas would see wild swings as well. Hurricanes and such would appear in unexpected areas and be much stronger than we currently see. Put another way, our relatively calm climate would become a bit more aggressive.
The Artic is generally out of sight and out of mind for most people unless they see a documentary. If it continues to melt, people are going to learn more about it than they ever imagined.