An Arctic Storm Is Coming

The ocean conveyor belt courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsYou may have seen a few articles floating around the internet lately on increased military interest in the Arctic, especially as the prospects of thinning sea ice and warming temperatures turn the jet stream into a big Arctic currency snake.

The scent of freshly pressed bills clog the minds of greedy corporations and fossil fuel hungry national leaders with a convoy of flying piggies with slits on their backs.

Is this the Arctic storm of the future?

According to an article at the RT network , “Experts say the future of the world economy, to some extent, is dependent on the Arctic.”

They fail to mention, however, a fact that trumps any human device — that the future of humanity, to a MASSIVE extent, is dependent on the Arctic. And here is why.

Sea ice does more than just reflect the sun’s energy and keep the planet cool. It affects weather patterns by shaping the jet stream which decides when to suck up moisture and where to dump it.  It’s the weather wizard curse of droughts and floods with a swish and flick of the wand. Now add increasing moisture in the air from more arctic ice-melt and the loop spawns a new industry retrofitting houses on the east coast with rooftop entrances. (Hmmm. Aguacene™ Portals perhaps?)

Sea ice also controls the deep ocean conveyor belt pictured above. Check out the National Snow and Ice Data Center for all things ice.

Salty water freezes at much lower temperatures. That is why we add salt to winter sidewalks. Well, that’s not really why…we’re just too lazy to shovel. We’d rather assault our fresh water systems, but that’s outside the scope of this post. Keeping the Arctic cold is crucial.

Unlike lake ice which simply floats on fresh water, sea ice ejects salt from its clutches as it freezes. This increases the density of the water layer absorbing the salt underneath the ice and stalls it from freezing. The warmer sea water further below gives way and the sluggish chilly layer sinks to the bottom and heads for the equator in true Canadian fashion.  Then, after taking a nice leisurely cruise around the tropics, it eventually meanders its way back north, with a stop to visit the Queen of course.

This thermohaline circulation, as the conveyor belt action is called, moves oxygen around the deep ocean. No sea ice, less circulation, less oxygen, more dead zones, and welcome dystopian science fiction reality.

Sea ice does not only respond to air temperature and cold winds either. The great Arctic rivers, such as the Mackenzie River feeding the Beaufort Sea is truly the Deh-Cho when it comes to climate change and human life.  Her watershed comprises nearly 20% of Canada. She flows into the Beaufort Sea creating an influx of fresh water massive enough to kick start an intricate process of sea ice melting, thus feeding into an already compromised system as river discharge alters Arctic sea ice.

But before you say “Hey! Let’s just damn her and imprison her behind a concrete wall” think again.  

Arctic deltas contribute to sea ice formation in the winter by bringing in fresh water to reduce salinity and allow land-based sea ice to form. Arctic watersheds also provide much needed Nordic ice cover on the great rivers which would otherwise be hot little spring photon suckers that float on down to the Arctic ocean to spice things up even further. Yum. Baby seal vindaloo.

As long as the fresh and salt water relationship is kept in delicate balance all is good. Unfortunately, all is not so good. The Deh-Cho in particular is in immediate danger (more on that in a future post) which brings us full circle to the recent political interest in the great white further north.

If Arctic warming continues at its accelerating pace, whoever “owns’ the Arctic sea floor in this fossil fuel addicted world will control the global economy…but for how long? The answer to that question exists in the oceans themselves — our life source.

Time to do some virtual snowboarding on the Mackenzie ice jams and get informed.

Let's make a splash!


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  1. says

    I wonder if we as individuals collecting rainwater and using grey water technology thus lessening the demand on water from suppliers will even slow down these destroyers of the earth.
    Perhaps if we can get it done by the masses.
    The earth needs us to take sides now.

    • says

      It certainly requires a shift in how we all view our selves in relation to our water source. Collecting rainwater and using grey water does decouple the requirement for energy to pump water into households from city stores.

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