Glaciers and ice sheets are found all around the world, but they are melting because climate change is increasing global temperatures. This has numerous negative environmental consequences. The biggest impacts are the melting of the ice causing quicker melting of the rest of the ice, rising sea levels and changes in the ecosystem. These changes can affect animals and people living both near and far away from glaciers. To limit the melting of the ice we can reduce our contribution to climate change. We can do this by changing our actions, such as eating less meat and using less plastic.
WHY ARE ICE SHEETS MELTING?
Global climate change is causing global temperatures to increase. One consequence of this is the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. Glaciers are found all around the world, including the Arctic and Antarctica, along the equator and in central Africa. The total ice coverage of the world has decreased in the past few decades at the fastest rate ever seen. This has a lot of negative consequences for the environment.
Ice reflects heat from the sun, but water absorbs it. So, when ice melts into water, it starts absorbing more heat. This warms the remaining ice further, so it melts it faster. It is a vicious cycle; melting causes more melting, which causes more melting.
Rising sea levels
When ice melts, the water enters the sea. This causes sea levels to rise. This can cause flooding in some places, especially islands. Rising sea levels can affect countries by the coast by increasing the rate at which the sea wears down the land. In Africa, about 54.2 million people live in coastal areas that are less than 10m above the sea, so rising sea levels could affect all of these people.
Flooding can have lots of bad consequences for people. It can ruin people’s houses and force them to move to a different place. If farmland gets flooded it will destroy crops and harm livestock. Flooding can contaminate water sources that people need to drink, which heightens the risk of disease.
Flooding can also harm the environment. Flooding from sea water can destroy the environment because of the salt in the water. If sea water gets into rivers and other freshwater sources, it can kill all the organisms living there.
An ecosystem is the community of interactions between living organisms and the environment they live in. When glaciers melt, the ecosystem is changed. The rock beneath the ice is exposed. This provides more habitat for species – this is a positive effect of glacial melting! However, it also means that organisms that can’t normally live there can move in. These are called invasive species. Invasive species can be very damaging for the species that already live there and for the environment. Invasive species can cause native species to go extinct. Also, when ice melts the habitat gets warmer. It can become too warm for species to live there, which means that they can die off and become extinct.
These consequences can impact people living near and far away from glaciers and ice sheets.
Can we limit the melting of ice sheets?
Climate change is causing the melting of ice sheets. So, to stop this or slow it down, we can change our actions so that we don’t contribute to climate change. It is easy to change our actions in small ways such as eating less meat, using less plastic and using less electricity. All of these things reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are the gases that cause climate change.