GLACIER: Arctic Climate Change

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The Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth. Its seemingly remote location in the north might lead some to believe that what happens in the Arctic stays in the Arctic. But that is not the case. The consequences of this region’s transformation are being felt by the entire world, not just the Arctic’s 4 million people. [TEXT: Dr. Piers Sellers, Climate Scientist, NASA/GSFC] And the most important action that we can take to slow Arctic warming over the long term is to substantially reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. But it’s also important to address black carbon — and that’s the soot that’s produced by dirty vehicles, oil and gas wells, and wildfires, and is a strong contributor to global warming by itself. But additionally, when this soot settles on the Arctic snow and ice, it increases the amount of heat that is absorbed, which in turn melts the snow and ice faster. Now, as the snow and ice melt, the darker land and water underneath the snow are uncovered and absorb more heat.

This accelerates additional melting in the Arctic. In scientific terms, this is a positive feedback loop, and it explains why the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. The water from melting ice ends up in the ocean and contributes to sea-level rise. Glaciers that have endured since the last ice age are shrinking and adding to the rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities around the globe. And emerging science suggests that changes in the Arctic may be affecting the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere, disrupting weather patterns far beyond the Arctic. Now Arctic communities are facing the full brunt of these changes. [TEXT: In Alaska, permafrost thaw could add up to $6.1 billion to current costs of maintaining public infrastructure over the next 20 years.] Thawing permafrost is destroying infrastructure. Loss of sea ice has left communities vulnerable to coastal erosion and threatens the survival of a number of key species.

These communities are losing the ecosystems they depend on for their survival — and the centuries-old traditions they’ve built around them. The good news is that we can do something about it — now. Low-carbon solutions are increasingly abundant and affordable. Around the globe, the price of solar and wind energy has plummeted in recent years, with more than half of new power generation in 2014 alone coming from renewable sources. And some firms are voluntarily eliminating flaring and methane leaks from their oil and gas operations. Science has informed the public and policy-makers about this environmental crisis. What is needed now is the initiative and courage to confront the problem head on. Our actions can protect or unravel the Arctic. Concerted and deliberate action by the world’s leaders in politics, in industry and in science will be needed to prevent the loss of our Arctic heritage and reduce further damage to the climate system. The responsibility for dealing with this challenge is on all of us.

[TEXT: The world needs to redirect to a low-carbon future. A key opportunity for effective action comes this December in Paris at the international climate negotiations.] [TEXT: Paris isn’t the end of the road — more work remains.] [TEXT: To learn more about the Arctic visit: www.state.gov/arctic] [TEXT: Additional footage provided by: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio, Chasing Ice, and Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation.] [TEXT: Produced by the U.S. Department of State].

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