Arctic

Written by Robert Watt

Friday, 03 November 2017 00:00

arctic ocean resilience COP23 event promo

Side event: Arctic Ocean resilience - can critical tipping points still be avoided?

10 November, 13:00-14:30, Nordic Pavilion, Bonn Zone

The Arctic is a bellwether of global change. But over the past year the speed and breadth of ecological and social change has been even greater than in many other regions of the planet: new record lows for sea ice extent, temperatures dramatically above seasonal norms, permafrost thaw, eroding coastlines and acidification of the Arctic Ocean at roughly twice the rate for the world’s oceans in general.

At the same time, what happens in the Arctic isn’t confined to the Arctic. It is an important part of our planet’s cooling system, influences weather and climate conditions the world over, and is a crucial region for migratory birds, for marine life, and for people. Can we avoid critical tipping points in the Arctic? And if so, how?

Why is the Arctic important for climate change?

 The Arctic is often thought of as a distant and isolated region, yet it is also a bellwether of global change. Newspaper headlines and scientific publications over the past year chronical a speed and breadth of ecological and social change that is even greater than many other regions of the planet. These changes are often dramatic: new record lows for sea ice extent, temperatures dramatically above seasonal norms, permafrost thaw, eroding coastlines and acidification of the Arctic Ocean at roughly twice the rate for the world’s oceans in general.

Each of these changes disturb the stability of marine ecosystems of the Arctic Ocean. Each also creates both opportunities and disruption for those living in the Arctic, yet they are largely driven by activities carried out elsewhere in the world. At the same time, what happens in the Arctic isn’t confined to the Arctic. It is an important part of our planet’s cooling system, influences weather and climate conditions the world over, and is a crucial region for migratory birds, for marine life, and for people.

Where are the Arctic tipping points?

The Arctic Ocean is literally the center of this region, and its resilience is being undermined by a diverse range of changes. The Arctic Resilience Report, released in November 2016, lists a variety of potential regime shifts, or tipping points, identified in the scientific literature, that impact Arctic Ocean ecosystems and the people who depend on them. These range from ice-free summers to coastal marine eutrophication, from disturbances in Arctic marine food webs to the collapse of fisheries.

Potentially critical changes for which threshold effects are not known are also underway, such as Arctic Ocean acidification, (identified by Arctic Council reports), while other changes are more direct human responses to the many changes in the region: accumulation of long range pollutants and plastics, increased shipping traffic and tourism, increased interest in resource extraction, and disruption of traditional livelihoods. And while the countries of the Arctic region are wealthy, the populations of many Arctic sub-regions are often economically poor and in dire need of development.

Virtually of these threats are significantly influenced or caused by human activity, and the choices made by people both within and outside the Arctic can therefore have a decisive impact on the resilience of the Arctic Ocean and the inhabitants of the region.

Share:
FacebookTwitterLinkedin