Glasgow Science Center column: The changing Arctic

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<p><figcaption class=City of Science: The changing Arctic (Image: Glasgow Science Centre)

Climate change is rapidly eroding a crucial feature of our planet.

The frozen regions of the Earth – our polar ice, glaciers, areas of snow and permafrost – are melting at a faster rate than scientists predict.

These frozen areas are vital to life on Earth.

Together with the oceans they regulate the temperature of our planet. They are home to millions of people whose livelihoods depend on the ice. They support thousands of species of animals and plants and are a source of food traded worldwide.

It is in the Arctic regions where these rapid changes are having the greatest impact, and this is the focus of a new painting on display at the Glasgow Science Centre.

The artwork is a collaboration between ocean scientist Dr Sian Henley, based at the University of Edinburgh, and Laura Johnson, an artist, teacher and social scientist.

The painting depicts environmental, industrial and social issues in the Arctic due to climate change. It aims to open conversations about the impacts of a warming planet and how we live and interact with nature.

Henley and Johnson saw the opportunity for close collaboration between the arts and sciences as an inspiring way to highlight the urgent changes needed to protect the fragile polar regions.

Every year, some of the Arctic sea ice melts in the summer, then expands again during the colder winter months. But in response to global warming temperatures, Arctic sea ice is melting faster every time.

The summer sea ice sheet has already shrunk by about 40% since satellite records began in the late 1970s. It is expected to disappear completely by 2050. Some predictions suggest it could happen in less than 15 years.

This dramatic melt is something Henley has witnessed during his research work in the Arctic.

“Going there really changes how you think about everything,” she said.

“It is extraordinarily beautiful. It’s breathtaking. But it’s also very clear how fragile it is when you see vast sheets of sea ice breaking into tiny pieces, or the fronts of glaciers crumbling into the sea.

Henley, whose research focuses on how polar oceans and ecosystems are changing in response to climate change, added: ‘I found it extremely inspiring in terms of wanting to learn more, wanting to help protect these amazing systems .

“But it’s also pretty scary and pretty humbling to see the vastness of Arctic sea ice and think that within a few decades, we might not have it in summer anymore.”

Why is that sea ice so important to life on Earth?

We rely on it to keep global temperatures in check. Sea ice is highly reflective and helps keep sunlight from being absorbed by the ocean, causing the Earth to warm further.

Without it, we risk accelerating the rise in global temperatures.

The loss of that protective cover will impact the entire Arctic ecosystem, from algae and fish that need dark water and less exposure to sunlight, to animals that rely on ice for survival, like seals, polar bears and walruses. .

The endangerment of these species is also impacting the Arctic communities that depend on them for food, putting pressure on their traditional ways of life. Reduced sea ice cover also means less protection from storm surges and increased risk of coastal erosion.

Henley is aware of the vulnerability of these regions, saying: “I focus on environmental change, but there is a lot of industrial and economic change, and indigenous communities living in the Arctic are very much on the front lines of climate change, without really having done any what to contribute to it, or to benefit from the activities that have driven it, as we have done in the more southern latitudes.

She believes artists have a vital role to play in tackling climate change, noting: ‘One of the things I care most about is that people understand how important the polar regions and oceans are, in terms of supporting life on the planet. planet Earth and therefore human survival.

“I think only by working effectively between science and art can we really get that message across. Bringing the natural sciences, social sciences and the arts together in a way that people can understand, reach and engage with is of paramount importance.

To see the art installation, visit the Glasgow Science Centre’s gallery: Our World, Our Impact.

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