Today, polar ice caps are melting six times faster than they did in the 1990s. Paired with the 2019 Arctic heatwave, this melting rate may produce disastrous outcomes. Notably, the disappearing polar ice caps will accelerate global warming, cause widespread coastal flooding, and contribute to rising sea levels.
How Fast Are Polar Ice Caps Melting?
Scientists have confirmed that polar ice caps are melting at unprecedented and dangerous rates. Since the 1990s, the speed of ice loss as increased sixfold — with a sevenfold increase in Greenland.
In a more proximate scale, ice loss has tripled in speed in the past five years alone.
Attributed in part to rising average temperatures, the poles are experiencing the brunt of global warming. Known as polar amplification, the effects of increased solar radiation are most pronounced in polar regions. Where the average global temperature may increase slightly over time, the poles oftentimes experience steeper temperature spikes.
This is certainly the case for the Antarctic Circle. Recent temperatures have reached records in the region, amounting to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.33 °C) this winter.
And the headline-making 2019 Arctic heatwave certainly did not help. But these heatwaves are only becoming more intense and frequent as global warming continues.
“What was highly unusual in the recent past is becoming the new normal. The Arctic is far more sensitive to warming now than even a few decades ago,” said geography professor Luke Trusel of Pennsylvania State University.
The Danger of Melting Ice on Coastal Towns
With recent data finding that 2019 broke a record for ice loss, time is running out for coastal communities. Already, many cities and towns have explored alternatives to diffuse rising sea levels — many to no avail.
Yet regardless of how you spin it, polar ice caps are melting much too fast for communities to adjust. In the 1990s, towns became accustomed to a much slower rising sea level rate. In this decade, the globe lost about 81 billion tons of ice each year.
But now, that number averages around 475 billion tons, 60% of which stemming from Greenland’s ice mass. Accordingly, coasts spanning the Atlantic Ocean face a unique challenge. How will they adapt to rising sea levels?
Communities Should Actively Prepare for Melting Polar Ice Caps
The answer is not readily available, but nonetheless, communities should prepare for the worst.
“These are not unlikely events or small impacts,” professor Andrew Shepherd at the University of Leeds stated. Rather, he anticipates that these impacts “are happening and will be devastating for coastal communities.”
The first step for front-line, coastal communities may be to recognize that the fast pace at which polar ice caps melt present a crisis beyond the arctic and Antarctic circles. Rising sea levels will threaten coastal communities across the globe, where even minute changes in sea level can flood or engulf entire cities.
Already, cities such as Miami and London have experienced preemptive flooding. Scientists expect this flooding to worsen over time, becoming both more frequent and more encompassing. And as climate change may also lengthen hurricane season, coastal towns may experience even more deadly flooding every year.
The IPCC is Worried About Arctic Ice Loss
The current rate of polar ice cap loss is tracking as a worst-case scenario according to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC). In essence, the polar ice caps are depleting at an irreversible pace. At this rate, governments may not be able to prevent the complete loss of arctic ice.
What’s worse, scientists have already observed that melting ice will cause a dramatic rise in global sea levels. And according to the IPCC, rising sea levels may be the culprit of the most dangerous symptoms of climate change.
The scientists behind the IPCC’s recent statement attest that the future may be grave for coastal communities. Currently, the organization predicts that, without immediate action on carbon emissions, 400 million people will be exposed to coastal flooding every year by 2100.
Luckily, this number can be offset to a degree. The key is to shut down the culprit behind ice loss: global warming. But in order to achieve that, we must also scale down on carbon emissions — very, very soon.