Dec 17, 2021
Earth’s rising temperatures have had a big impact around the world, but climate change might be most felt where people don't live. The regions are at the planet's poles. They are called the Arctic and Antarctica. The poles are changing more quickly than climate scientists thought. That's according to new research.
“The very character of these places is changing,” said a scientist who works on the Arctic Report Card. That's a yearly report on the Arctic. She said, “We are seeing conditions unlike those ever seen before.”
Release of greenhouse gas is mostly caused by human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels. The gases have driven up the Earth’s temperature by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. This rise in temperature has destabilized one of Antarctica’s most dangerous glaciers and the ice shelf holding it. Scientists say it could break within three to five years. That really worries them a lot.
If the Thwaites Glacier collapsed, sea levels could rise several feet, scientists estimate. They say that would put millions of people who live on coasts in danger. Thwaites adds about 4% to annual global sea level rise, according to scientists. But that amount could rise to 25% if the shelf collapses, the scientists said.
Both arctic regions are mostly ice. Warming temperatures can change that environment a lot, scientists say. For example, images from the sky show how warmer conditions have led beavers to migrate into the Arctic tundra. They're building dams. Ships are sailing into areas once frozen, changing wildlife habitats and creating waste.
Photo from NASA courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Earth's Temperature Over Time
This short video uses graphs of global temperature over various time scales to show the changes in the Earth's rate of warming at different times in Earth's history.
Antarctic Ice Mass Loss 2002-2020
In this short animation, students observe an animated graph and color-coded map of Antarctica that show Antarctica's ice loss over the last 20 years.
Daily Sea Ice Timeseries & Maps
This interactive graph shows the size of Arctic and Antarctic ice cover every year going back to 1978.