Science Articles

The Polar Icecaps are Melting

Mon, 20th Jan 2014

But is this a bad thing?

John Anderson

For decades now, you have been observing the rapid changes in the climate that alarms the world. You have heard things such as carbon footprint and the melting of the ice caps. Polar BearSomewhere along the line, you might have considered adjusting your lifestyle to a more sustainable one. Scientists are still debating whether the rising temperature of the planet will harm humans or will everyone be able to adapt. Some researchers are even looking into the positive effects of the climate change.

Melting Polar Caps

An interesting view was presented by a team of scientists writing in PLoS One. According to ecological and environmental scientists at Sweden's Umea University, global warming will not cause extinction among Arctic species. On the contrary, it could allow species to expand their ranges.

The study began concentrating on the effects of climate change among species in Arctic and subarctic Europe. The scientists created models showing the effects of global warming to these species. And the results are surprising.

"Contrary to these expectations, our modeling of species distributions suggests that predicted climate change up to 2080 will favour most mammals presently inhabiting (sub)arctic Europe, the scientists reported."

Moreover, the scientists predict that no species will go extinct.

"Our results indicate that, irrespective of the scenario, most species (43 out of 61) will expand and shift their ranges, mostly in a north-easterly direction, in response to expected climate change if we assume that species are able to colonize all areas that become climatically suitable," the scientists observed.

Warming Oceans

Some aquatic species may also benefit from the warming ocean. Research carried out in 2012 and published in PNAS by McMaster University biologist Graham Scott and University of St. Andrew's Ian Johnston suggests that certain species of fish growing up at warmer temperature may adapt quickly to the changing climate. The study shows that fish are hardier after being raised in warm-water.Zebrafish embryos

In the study, Zebrafish, a native of Southern Asia, were observed growing in different temperatures. Typically, Zebrafish can withstand temperatures ranging from 40 degrees Celsius to near freezing. The fish in the study were raised across temperatures they would naturally live in.

"What limits are there to their coping abilities? That's what we're really trying to understand," says Scott. "If we want to appreciate how the natural world is affected by climate change, that's what we need to know."

Scott and Johnson found that embryos raised in warm waters can swim faster and developed muscles better-suited for aerobic exercises. These fishes were also able to adjust to colder temperatures well compared to other fishes raised in colder water.

"We thought that they might do better under warmer conditions because they grew up in warmer conditions. We didn't think they'd also do better under colder conditions, but they did."

Human Effects

Agriculture may also benefit from the changing mechanics of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide may aid growth in plants while their need for water is reduced. For the first time in three years, carbon dioxide concentration exceeded 400 parts per million. Australian researchers say that partial benefits from the climate change may offset some of its negative effects. Areas with annual rainfall below 400 millimeters can benefit the most from the increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"In those regions we can see a clear increase over the past 30 years," said Professor Graham Farquhar of Australian National University. "Over a period when CO2 levels have gone up about 14-18 per cent, it's as if the rainfall had increased 11 per cent."

However, the plants still need other key nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen to grow effectively. According to Dr. Mark Howden of CSIRO, the studies conducted by ANU have their limitations.

"Without those nutrients they can't grow faster and more effectively take advantage of that additional carbon dioxide," he said.

He considers the benefits of the increased CO2 in agriculture production, but he is not convinced of its significance.

"If we look outside our agricultural systems, many of our native forests and grasslands are actually nutrient limited," he said. "In those circumstances, we will see an increase in the water use efficiency, but not necessarily an increase in the growth."

As with any story, there are two sides that need to be considered. It is undeniable that global warming has its possible advantages in the future. However, significant negative impacts are already felt around the globe, ecologically and economically. The small positive effects cannot offset the greater calamities and problems brought by global warming. Right now we still have a choice: create a better future environment for the coming generations, or equip them to adapt in a harsher planet. But if we delay, we may not this option...

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