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Greenland ice melt fastest in 30 years

Scientists suspect global warming trend...

The Express ran the first in a series of weekly columns submitted by the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) on January 19. These articles seek to highlight not just local environmental issues but those which affect the population on a global scale. Questions and comments can be e-mailed to admin@ffostt.com

Over a period of four days in July, surface melting of Greenland's entire ice sheet occurred. According to the National Geographic News of July 25, 2012, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) images showed that this latest ice melt has had the fastest thaw rate since satellites began keeping records 30 years ago.

A NASA press release stated that "measurements from three satellites showed that on July 8, about 40 per cent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days, the melting had dramatically accelerated and an estimated 97 per cent of the ice sheet surface had thawed by July 12."

This comes on the heels of the calving or the breaking up of an iceberg off of the Petermann Glacier in Greenland. This has raised concerns amongst scientists about the Greenland ice shelf, saying that it is thinning extensively amid warm temperatures. There are attempts to link the fact that the edges of Greenland's ice sheets have already been thinning to climate change.

Scientists and environmentalists have taken note. What does this mean? Some say it may be appealing to attribute the events to global warming, but scientists say such melts in Greenland might occur every 150 years. However, others indicate that while the melt may occur naturally over the ages, the rapid rate of the ice thawing can be due to warming waters melting away the ice. Other scientists say that man-made global warming, a result of greenhouse gas emissions, is contributing to Greenland ice melt.

Is this the start of a global warming trend? The very warm temperatures in the northern hemisphere as well as the current events in Greenland have reenergised the debate about ocean and atmospheric warming and climate change and the effects that may have on the region and here in Trinidad and Tobago.

Global warming is the term used to describe a gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and its oceans, a change that is believed to be permanently altering the Earth's climate. On the other hand, climate change is a change in weather patterns including temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind and severe weather events.

The increased volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released by the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing, agriculture, and other human activities, are believed to be the primary sources of global warming. Carbon dioxide is either released in the atmosphere or absorbed in the ocean. Carbon dioxide helps trap heat in the atmosphere, with resulting increases in temperature.

Why must we be concerned?

As the temperature rises, the climate can change in unexpected ways. In addition to sea levels rising, weather can become more extreme. This means more intense major storms, more rain followed by longer and drier droughts. This will affect how we grow and source our food. In our region, changes to the acidity levels in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea will result in transformation of coral reefs which depend on certain levels of acidity and temperature to thrive.

Coral reefs are living organisms that house thousands of species of fish and other sea life. Often referred to as the "sea's rainforests", they hold a vital role for Small Island Developing States, of which Trinidad and Tobago is an example. Coral reefs protect islands such as ours from storm surges and provide safe haven for developing commercial fisheries.

We have been seeing other global events that signal the effects of a warming Earth. These changes include an intense drought in the USA, the worst in half a century. According to BBC News of August 1, 2012, "about half of all US counties have been declared disaster areas amid an enduring drought that has hit the country's crops, the US Department of Agriculture says." We have also seen a massive thunderstorm strike the Washington DC area with damaging winds of over 60 mph.

You may ask, so how do all these potential changes affect little me and what to do about them? We can start in small ways by reducing our carbon footprint. How we choose to use the Earth's resources impacts the planet's ability to provide more resources in the future. Reducing our electricity consumption, managing our water usage more carefully, growing organic and/or purchasing locally grown whole food to using fuel efficient transportation can go a long way in reducing the environmental impacts on our planet.

Each one of us is to be blamed and, yet, each one of us can be the lifestyle solution if we act together...as one...together.

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