Melting ice caps mean a whole lot more than rising ocean levels. Arctic Tundra, thawing permafrost, diminished ice packs – seemingly insignificant, yet crucial on a global scale. I found and linked to this wordpress site, one able to explain the balance far better than I could.
As critical as the Arctic might be, it’s Antarctica that has me pondering. Would you believe me if I told you Antarctica is responsible for global weather? How about being the source of ocean currents responsible for maintaining ocean temperatures within a degree of average at all times?
Hovering at a consistent minus 110 degrees Fahrenheit during the total darkness of six month winters (43 degrees Fahrenheit colder on average than the Arctic) Unprotected by land masses, pummeled by constant 100 mph winds courtesy the “polar jet” ( a product of warm tropical air colliding with cooler south pole air masses – a conflict producing massive storms up to 4000 miles across). Polar winds, fed by earth’s rotation produce upper atmosphere winds of 200 mph. At the same time, churning water around Antarctica all the way to the ocean floor.
This is where it gets interesting. At 29 degrees Fahrenheit water begins to freeze, accounting for Antarctica more than doubling in size during “winter”. As sea water freezes, salt separates becoming dense, heavy “brine”. Billions of briny gallons slowly fall to the sea bed – an unseen ocean waterfall, flowing away from Antarctica and over the continental shelf, coming to rest several miles below. Thanks to raging “Polar jet” circulation, brine barely has time to catch its breath before the “screaming 60s” (below 60 degrees latitude, the roughest seas in the world), send it packing for warmer waters.
Urged by relentless circular motion, dense brine begins to move. Finding warmer water towards the Equator, it starts to rise, taking along rich nutrients and minerals from the ocean floor. Flows of deep sea brine follow prevailing winds – in a nutshell, regulating ocean temperature, providing nutrients for plankton blooms and acting as the global barometer keeping weather in check. Joining other ocean currents, rising, falling, becoming diluted on the way up – the coldest, densest water known to man regulates average ocean temperature within a degree.
Ponder this irrefutable fact – without Antarctica and the polar jet, we have absolutely no way of regulating weather. Everything we take for granted – seasons, tropical monsoons, snow pack maintaining glaciers – without exception, the result of ocean circulation patterns. Antarctica protects the world from wild swings in temperature, end of story.
My simplified explanation of the process can’t begin to convey the importance of polar ice. Antarctica in particular plays a role vital enough to be called crucial to our way of life. We need to stop dickering over who or what is to blame and start grasping it won’t matter once the ice is gone.
A link to the state of Arctic ice….