Continental Rift: It is not about Trump Leaving Climate Agreement

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Continental Rift: It is not about Trump Leaving Climate Agreement

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A study released by the American Psychological Association (APA) says that climate change also takes a significant toll on mental health. That includes the loss of personal and professional identity, loss of a sense of control, feelings of fear and fatalism. Do not we already witness this mental degradation among the leaders of super powers and even among us who elect them?

“The rift has accelerated since end of the last year”, reported all the major news agencies in North America and elsewhere about impacts of climate change. No, it was not about political rift between President Trump and the rest of the world on Paris Climate Agreement. It was about real rift- the massive and tall shelf of the ice separating and collapsing into Antarctic waters. A full break was never seen before in the history of frozen continent.

This “breaking-news”, in its real sense, broke lose when Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf, known as Larsen C, measuring 48,600 sq km, five times the area of Israel, was irreversibly breaking away, several kilometres at a time, from its mother continent due to exceptionally high temperatures. To use contemporary language, Larsen C was extradited as refugee from its parents!

NASA and British Antarctic Survey scientists have in the last three decades observed a dramatic collapsing of smaller parts, Larsen A and B, as noted by the Nobel Prize-winning Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Larsen C, which is the largest of the three, is now clinging by the umbilical cord of about 25 km before finally breaking away.

That was two years back. One week back, One of the giant iceberg , known as A68 broke free from Antarctica.

Satellites show that world’d biggest iceberg that was , after separating from its mother, was trapped in the shallow water of hook-like Gyre, has now spun around in the waters of the Weddell Sea. It is  now moving north along the White Continent’s peninsula. A68 was in danger of becoming the world’s biggest “ice island”. Weighing around one trillion tonnes, Iceberg A68 appears to be quite nimble, humbled by the global warming. 

The iceberg, as described by one of the scientists based on satellite images,   is 160km in length yet only 200m thick – a similar ratio to a credit card ! In true sense, it is the credit card that would not work in ATM machines , as the account has crossed the debit limit. 

The drama of Larsen-A, B, C is captivating, because these constitute some of the world’s biggest icebergs ever to break off from an Antarctic ice shelf. What is more, it is taking place over last two  years , when the “disruptive” climate policies of US President Donald Trump on climate change have also started unfolding.

As expected, 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record globally since modern observations began in 1880, after 2016 ( hottest) , 2015 and 2017 in that order. To bring context to the global goal of limiting warming to 2°C, we compare the global temperatures to an earlier, pre-industrial 1880-1910 baseline. 2018’s global temperatures were 1.06°C above that baseline — more than halfway there. This made 2018 the second-warmest year on record without an El Niño event, behind only 2017. (El Niño can enhance warming, but it cannot explain all the temperature rise),  Only 2016 and 2015 were warmer years. With the five warmest years on record happening during the past five years — and the 20 warmest occurring over the past 22 — a consistent warming trend couldn’t be clearer. Meanwhile, monthly averaged atmospheric CO2 concentrations , the predominant greenhouse gas,  have risen to 411 ppm, as compared to 280 ppm before industrial revolurion of 18th century. 

The National Snow and Ice Data Centre at Boulder, Colorado, has recorded that the cover of Arctic ice, which expands and contracts in an annual cycle during winter and summer, probably reached its maximum size, when it spanned 14.42 million square kilometres, breaking the record as the smallest winter maximum extent ever observed in records dating to 1979.

While melting of the floating icebergs does not cause the sea level to rise, melting of the large volume icebergs makes the way to glaciers from the land mass of the Arctic and Antarctic to pour into the oceans, resulting in the sea level rise. 

What is more frightening is that loss of ice would cause more global warming because the heat from the Sun would get absorbed and not get reflected back due to loss of white cover of ice. This vicious feedback loop could trigger record-breaking runaway warming never seen in human history. 

Ice in Arctic and Antarctic is called permafrost, because of the permanency of ice there. There is another important dreadful impact of melting of permafrost not realized by many. A study released by Nature Climate Change has revealed that global warming will thaw about 20 per cent more permafrost than previously thought, potentially releasing significant amounts of greenhouse gases like methane ( more global warming gas than carbon dioxide) trapped under the layer of ice into the Earth’s atmosphere. 

Around 35 million people live in the permafrost zone in Arctic circle including in countries like Greenland.  A widespread thaw could cause the ground to become unstable, putting roads and buildings at risk of collapse. Such runaway release of greenhouse gases has already begun as the Arctic is warming at around twice the rate as the rest of the world. There is fear of not only mass coastal migration of human population due to rising sea levels but also from high latitude regions. The entire biodiversity is likely to be in mass-migration in search of survival. The heritage and culture of ‘ ice-men communities’ are in danger of extinction. 

There is also reverse migration , from equator to polar regions. Rising temperatures and sea levels, increasing acidity of the oceans due to absorption of additional carbon dioxide, escalation of intensity and surge of frequency of extreme weather events like droughts and floods are forcing land-based bio-species to move pole-wards by an average of 17 km per decade — and marine species by 72 km per decade as per new analysis recently presented by the University of Tasmania. 

The New Scientist magazine said in March 2017 that ticks that spread Lyme disease in animals and humans is predicted to cause major Lyme disease outbreaks in areas that have not faced the threats any time before. The benefits to humans being provided by other species, and the complex ecosystems they live in, are also at risk due to rising temperatures and acidity of oceans. 

A pioneering study by Science last year stated that current warming (just one degree Celsius) has already left an obvious mark on 77 of 94 different species and ecological processes. The study hints at possible genetic changes due to climate change and even physical traits including body size and shape. 

A study released in March by the American Psychological Association (APA) says that climate change also takes a significant toll on mental health. The loss of personal and professional identity, loss of a sense of control, feelings of helplessness, fear and fatalism, and worry about actual or potential impact of climate change can lead to stress that can build over time and eventually lead to stress-related problems such as substance abuse and depression, according to research reviewed in the report. 

Do not we already witness this transformation among the leaders of super powers and even among us who elect them? END

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