Feedbacks and Interactions
Climate change and global warming will affect key polar drivers of further
climate change. These effects will have impacts that affect other regions of
the world. Models indicate that once triggered, these impacts will continue
for centuries and lead to further change elsewhere in the world:
- Warming will reduce sea-ice and snow extent, particularly in the Arctic,
causing additional heating of the surfacewhich, in turn, will further
reduce ice/snow cover.*****
- Deep ocean water around the Antarctic and in the north Atlantic is a crucial
part of the ocean's thermohaline circulation. Its rate of production
is likely to decrease because of freshening of waters from increased Arctic
runoff from glacial icemelt, from increases in precipitation over evaporation,
and from reduced sea-ice formation. Models indicate that the impact will be
a prolonged, major slowing of the thermohaline circulation and ocean ventilation,
even with stabilization of greenhouse gases (GHGs).***
- Polar regions have oceans, wetlands, and permafrost that act as major sources
and sinks for atmospheric CO2 and methane (CH4) over
vast areas. Projected climate change will alter these features and increase
their contributions to GHGs. The Southern Ocean's uptake is projected
to decline; CO2 emissions from Arctic tundra may rise initially
as a result of changes in water content, peat decomposition, and thawing of
Vulnerability and Adaptation
- Localities within the Antarctic and Arctic where water is close to its melting
point are highly sensitive to climate change; this sensitivity renders their
biota and socioeconomic life particularly vulnerable to climate change. In
the Antarctic Peninsula, as ice melts, changes are likely to be rapid, but
overall the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean are likely to respond relatively
slowly to climate change, so there will be less impact in this region compared
with elsewhere by 2100. Nevertheless, climate change in the Antarctic will
initiate processes that could last for millennialong after greenhouse
emissions have stabilizedand these changes will cause irreversible impacts
on ice sheets, oceanic circulation of water, and sea-level rise.
- The Arctic is extremely vulnerable to climate change, and major ecological,
sociological, and economic impacts are expected. A variety of positive feedback
mechanisms induced by climate change are likely to operate in the Arctic;
these mechanisms will cause rapid and amplified responses, with consequential
impacts on the thickness and extent of sea ice, thawing of permafrost, runoff
into the Arctic Ocean, and coastal erosion.
- Biota are particularly vulnerable to climate change in the polar regions.
Less sea ice will reduce ice edges, which are prime habitats for marine organisms.
Habitat loss for some species of seal, walrus, and polar bear results from
ice melt, and apex consumerswith their low-reproductive outputsare
vulnerable to changes in the long polar marine food chains.
- Adaptation to climate change in natural polar ecosystems is likely to occur
through migration and changing species assemblages, but the details of these
effects are unknown. Some animals may be threatened (e.g., walrus, polar bear,
and some species of seal), whereas others may flourish (e.g., some species
of fish and penguins).
- Loss of sea ice in the Arctic will provide increased opportunities for new
sea routes, fishing, and new settlements, but also for wider dispersal of
pollutants. Collectively, these changes emphasize the need for an adequate
infrastructure to be in place before they occur. Disputes over jurisdiction
in Arctic waters, sustainable development of fisheries and other marine resources,
and construction of navigational aids and harbor facilities, as well as problems
arising from oil and gas development, including pollution and environmental
monitoring, will all have to be resolved by polar and associated nations as
climate-induced change becomes widespread. Just as important is the need for
new building codes for roads, railways, runways, and buildings to cope with
the effects of permafrost thawing.
- Although most indigenous peoples are highly resilient, the combined impacts
of climate change and globalization create new and unexpected challenges.
Because their livelihood and economy increasingly are tied to distant markets,
they will be affected not only by climate change in the Arctic but also by
other changes elsewhere. Local adjustments in harvest strategies and in allocation
of labor and capital will be necessary. Perhaps the greatest threat of all
is to maintenance of self-esteem, social cohesion, and cultural identity of