Arctic Ocean's Rapid Acidification Could Be Dire
Christian Aslund/Greenpeace/AFP/Getty Images
Over a thousand self portraits were submitted from all over the world by individuals calling for a ban on destructive industry in the Arctic and put together in the shape of an eye at the North Pole in April, 2013.
Spring's not all about pretty flowers and greening trees. For some scientists it means watching Arctic ice. Scientists and engineers with NASA's Operation IceBridge are already at it, surveying glaciers in Greenland, Alaska and northern Canada. The flight part of the largest aerial survey of Earth's polar ice ever flown – a six-year mission over both poles aimed at producing a three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and their sea ice.
Here, NASA's P-3B sits on the tarmac of the Kangerlussuaq Airport. The plane is equipped with a suite of instruments that gather data as the plane flies over the ice. It also carries scientists and teachers, some of whom took the following images.
The glacial Alaskan mountains are seen from high altitude aboard the P-3B during the IceBridge flight from Thule, Greenland, to Fairbanks, Alaska, on March 21, 2013.
A true river of ice, or glacier, on Greenland's Geikie Peninsula.
Tongue-shaped moraines appear to lick at the Penny Ice Cap on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. These moraines are debris that was plowed up and left behind by past glaciers
Another moraine left by a small glacier on Penny Ice Cap on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada.
This year's aerial survey of the Penny Ice Cap glacier follows previous radar surveys done in 1995, 2000 and 2005 using the Airborne Topographic Mapper and CReSIS radar instrument.
Near Thule Air Base, sled dogs rest on the sea ice in North Star Bay. Behind them is the 700-foot-high Mount Dundas. Cities in Greenland are connected by ship and air, but shorter distances are crossed by snowmobile or dogsleds.
No, not another glacier, but an ice-covered fjord on Baffin Island near Davis Strait, which is in the distance. Baffin Island is the fifth largest island in the world.
This is a mosaic image of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. The darkest zone is open water. Light blue zones are thick sea ice, while dark blue zones are thinner ice. The image was created by the Digital Mapping System (DMS) instrument aboard the IceBridge P-3B.
Icebergs crowd the sea ice of Jakobshavn Fjord, seen from NASA’s P-3B aircraft on the Apr. 4, 2013, IceBridge survey. Jakobshavn Glacier produces one in ten Greenland icebergs and is one of the fastest moving ice streams in the world.
NASA / DMS
Another view of the cracked Beaufort Sea ice by the Digital Mapping System (DMS) instrument aboard the IceBridge P-3B. The DMS uses a camera that points down through a window in the underside of the plane. It snaps a frame each second which are combined into a mosaic.
On April 8, 2013, science teacher Mark Buesing of Libertyville High School in Libertyville, Ill., shoots Greenland glaciers through the window of NASA's P-3B.
Eastern Greenland's Helheim Fjord is surveyed on April 5, 2013, from the NASA P-3B. Helheim is one of the largest in Greenland.
The P-3B sees its shadow on April 9, 2013, on the sea ice southeast of Greenland. Flying low altitude is all part of gathering detailed ice data.
Danish high school science teacher Jette Rygaard Poulsen watches the Greenland ice roll by from a window of the P-3B airborne laboratory on Apr. 8, 2013.
Not everything is icy in Greenland. Even as early as April 8, southwestern Greenland has ice free fjords.
An actively calving glacier front on the ocean in southwestern Greenland on April 8.
In two plots of topographic data from the Jakobshavn Glacier warmer colors are higher ice elevation. The calving front is at the transition from warm to cool colors. The difference between the two dates of survey reveal a loss of about 200 meters of ice.
It doesn't affect the ice, but there are some other interesting sights in Greenland this spring, like the aurora borealis over Kangerlussuaq.
Scientists expressed alarm on Monday over the rapid acidification of the Arctic Ocean caused by carbon dioxide emissions, which could have dire consequences on the region's fragile ecosystem.
Acidity levels in the planet's oceans have risen by 30 percent since the start of the industrial era, and are now at their highest levels in at least 55 million years, delegates said at a conference in Bergen, Norway dedicated to the subject.
The Arctic Ocean is more vulnerable than other oceans because its cold waters absorb more carbon dioxide. It is also fed by fresh water from rivers and melting ice, which makes it less able chemically to neutralize the acidification effects of the carbon dioxide.
Furthermore, the increase in melting ice exposes greater expanses of water, which leads to greater absorption.
In the Iceland and Barents seas, pH levels have decreased by around 0.02 per decade since the end of the 1960s.
Even if carbon dioxide emissions were to be brought to a halt today, it would take tens of thousands of years for the oceans to return to the acidity levels they had before the industrial era began two centuries ago, according to Norwegian researcher Richard Bellerby, the main author of a scientific study on the subject.
A little-known phenomenon that is spread unevenly in bodies of water, including in the Arctic, acidification poses a threat to corals, mollusks and other shell organisms such as pteropods, also known as sea angels and sea butterflies, whose ability to calcify has been altered.
Some species, such as the brittle star which is similar to a starfish, face a direct risk of extinction, and fish stocks may also be affected.
As a result, industrial fishing, tourism and the lifestyles of indigenous peoples are at stake.
However, other species could benefit from the rising acidification, scientists said.
"Uncertainty is not an excuse for inaction," said Sam Dupont of Sweden's Gothenburg University.
Scientists called for politicians to once again put climate change at the top of the political agenda, regretting that the issue had been overshadowed by the economic crisis.
"We have to think beyond this bank crisis," said Carol Turley of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in Britain.