Global Importance of Antarctica in Context of Climate Change

Antarctica is the biggest reserve of fresh water in the world, which it holds in form of ice sheets and permafrost. In a rapidly warming world, Antarctica’s ice shelf are loosing ice and started to melt off. For example recently Larsen C Shelf broke itself off from the main landmass of Antarctica, before that Larsen A and B shelf have already been drifted.

Antarctica is important for science because of its profound effect on the Earth’s climate and ocean systems. Locked in its four kilometre-thick ice sheet is a unique record of what our planet’s climate was like over the past one million years.

Significance

  1. Large quantity of fresh water
  • Antarctica holds a staggering amount of water. The three ice sheets that cover the continent contain around 70% of our planet’s fresh water, all of which we now know to be vulnerable to warming air and oceans. If all the ice sheets were to melt, Antarctica would raise global sea levels by at least 56m.

    2.Impact in changing climate of Southern hemisphere

  • Meltwater would slow down the world’s ocean circulation, and shifting wind belts may affect the climate in the southern hemisphere.
  • Ocean currents flow and winds blow precisely because of temperature difference between poles and equator region. With global warming this difference will come down thus affecting both currents and winds.
  • Naturally it will significantly disturb the balance of climate
  • For example – erratic monsoon, frequent El-Nino and La-Nina

    3.Reservoir of Carbon

  • Existing Ice Sheets have kept a massive source of Carbon Dioxide and Methane underneath.
  • If these ice sheets are to melt, huge mass of these greenhouse gases will escape and further exacerbate Global Warming catastrophically.

    4.Heat budget of the Earth

  • Icesheets are excellent medium for reflecting back the sunlight, known as albedo. Thus Antarctica is significant in balancing the heat budget of earth.

     5.Presence of minerals

  • Antarctica is lesser known but significant store house of minerals, some of which are not even quantified. E.g, gold deposits.
  • Presently, there may not be commercially viable to extract, but with GW they are more likely to be.

Conclusion

  • In polar regions, surface temperatures are projected to rise twice as fast as the global average, due to a phenomenon known as polar amplification. It is therefore crucial to reduce CO₂ levels now for the benefit of future generations, or adapt to a world in which more of our shorelines are significantly redrawn.
  • Antarctica is one of the most crucial component of earth’s ecosystem and has significant position in preserving earth’s landscape, ecosystem and climate. It is a global common, thus humanity needs to coordinate its developmental activities and limit the emission of green house gases.

Reference: Down to Earth

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