The Butterfly Effect Caused by Global Warming
We all know what global warming is, but do we truly understand the consequences?
Ever since pre-industrial times, the temperature of our planet has been steadily rising. Annually, the temperature of the Earth goes up by approximately 0.87℃, with an estimate of a rise by 2050 by 2-3℃. It has an impact on the lives of not only us humans, but also on the wonderful organisms we are surrounded by- the most notable being the Arctic and marine creatures.
To truly understand the effects of climate change, we must first understand the basic effects on the environment.
First comes the melting of ice, which is extremely familiar to all of us. The melting of mountain glaciers, ice sheets and polar ice caps have caused an annual rise of about 3.2 millimetres as well as adverse effects on wildlife and their habitats. For instance, Antarctica’s Adélie penguin population in the western peninsula has dropped by over 90%.
The second effect comes in the form of increased precipitation on average, alongside the threat of wildfires and water shortages in drought-prone areas. Wildfires are also becoming increasingly common in rainforests such as the Amazon, which degrades the quality of the forest. The degradation causes a shortage of food and territory for wild animals to live in, which increases the risk of human-animal conflict.
Third, the conditions have become ideal for pests such as bark beetles, which can devastate millions of acres of spruce and pine forests. These species thrive in warmer temperatures, so species who thrive in colder climates either migrate further north, adapt to the new environment, or, as in the case of the polar bear, have an incredibly high chance of going extinct.
The trapping of carbon dioxide also leads to the acidification of oceans and the bleaching of coral, which is the breaking of the symbiotic bond between coral and algae, and increased temperatures result in an overall imbalance in the natural food chain as well as a loss of habitat.
Phytoplankton, which thrives in colder temperatures and is heat-intolerant, are forced to retreat northward, while heat-tolerant species, such as shrimp, expand northwards. Yearly growth cycles are affected as well, causing a non-synchronous natural environment.
However, the change in climate has the hardest effect on the Arctic animals- especially the polar bear.
Polar bears are the apex predator of the Arctic and, as a result, are the most affected by changes in temperature. Melting of sea ice results in shorter hunting seasons in smaller territories, which cause many of them to starve to death. Along with that, the thick snow and ice cover used by pregnant females are increasingly rare, affecting the population of these bears. Await that usually lasts six months grows longer, and mothers and cubs return to the mainland late, when food is scarce.
Besides this, contaminants that come in contact with prey animals also act as a threat. They are stored in the fat of the bear, and would not be a threat to a healthy polar bear. However, the shortage of food causes them to rely more on the stored fat, and the contaminants can adversely affect the animal’s health, even leading to death.
We all must take small steps to help save these wonderful creatures, for, without them, our planet is nothing.
Authored By: Deeksha K L