Happy Anniversary Planet Earth! Episode 6: Ice Worlds

Both poles of our planet are covered in ice. They are the largest and most demanding wildernesses of all.

Sigh. We’ve made it to the Ice Worlds episode – the one where the changes of the last ten years are most obvious.

Our understanding of climate change has increased greatly in ten years, although many (especially in the US) remain in doubt. The episode begins and ends in the Arctic, where polar bears are the keystone predator and our adopted mascot for efforts to stop climate change. Maybe you’ve seen the super depressing pictures of starving polar bears. Or the pictures of them swimming in open water. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only animals threatened in these habitats – in fact, basically all animals are negatively impacted by climate change.

Long term studies show Adelie penguin and Chinstrap penguin populations are declining. Antarctic sea ice provide fungus for krill to eat, which the penguins survive on. Emperor penguins fare no better, and their populations are expected to decline massively over the next 50 years or so. Humpback whales also feed on krill in the Antarctic and may be starving as the krill populations decline.  Several birds breed in the Antarctic. Climate change affects these birds in many ways – there may be more nesting habitat for these birds, like Snow Petrels, but the birds also seem to be breeding later in the year as sea ice cover timing changes.

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Time for your close up, Ms. Krill.

The sun’s influence diminishes and the ocean starts to freeze. the greatest seasonal change on our planet is underway…

Antarctica is losing ice. This topic has been discussed extensively (see various links here) and is of obvious importance. Unbelievable amounts of ice are doing (nearly) unbelievable things. Weather systems are becoming more dangerous and more costly. What is being done? The White House has enacted some plans for combating climate change and in 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris led to the “Paris Agreement”, outlining a global reduction of climate change (specifically, a limit of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions). These steps are necessary and it’s encouraging that the Paris Agreement has global support. I guess it remains to be seen whether these efforts are enough.

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Ice. It’s pretty. I hope it’s not an endangered species.

Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic is a vast frozen sea surrounded by land.

The same threats and stories are occurring in the Arctic as the Antarctic. Arctic Musk oxen are declining and their range contracting due to climate change as well (and this may have been occurring for the last 10000 years – covered previously at NiB!)

Bad news is everywhere you look when it comes to the Ice Worlds. I’ve watched this episode several times now and it depresses me more each time. Time to focus on getting mad (and proactive) instead of get sad though: here are some tips from the USA Environmental Protection Agency  on how to start combating climate change on a local scale.

The episode ends with more shots of polar bears. I really hope 10 years from now we’re reporting population growth and decreased greenhouse gas emissions, instead of the easier to imagine and much less pleasant alternative.

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Polar bear mama and cub.

Following their mother has prepared them for life at the pole, an ever changing land ruled by ice. Whether they are ready for the bigger changes that have begun to shape the ice worlds of our planet remains to be seen.

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