Changes in sea ice in high latitudes only bring disadvantages. Discuss.
Sea ice in high latitudes has changed significantly since around the 1970s. The ice is melting faster than ever recorded, mainly due to the fact that human industrialisation and huge use of energy that produces large amounts of carbon dioxide is exacerbating the problem of global warming and making it occur rapidly, leaving little chance of adaption of the varying ecosystems. The Arctic has lost 4% of its sea ice since 1970 and the summer minimum ice extent has decreased by 13.3% since 1979. I will be looking at the effects of changing sea ice on sea routes focusing on the geopolitical and shipping factors, and mining in the high latitudes mainly in the Arctic.
Due to the changing sea ice extent in high latitudes shipping routes have been affected bringing both advantages and disadvantages. If the sea ice in the Arctic decreases it will open up waterways which would be a cheaper way of transporting large amounts of goods due to the quicker amount of time it would take, the less fuel the ships would need (and this would also mean that there would be less emissions which is beneficial to the environment), certain routes would not need to go through canals like the Suez and the Panama canal which charge $250,000 for 24 hours of use of the canal. Furthermore, more advantages emerge because the Panama Canal was not built for the size of the current container ships it is starting to struggle to get ships through and if there was less sea ice extent then it would not put as much of a strain on the canals. With less sea ice and more ships travelling through the cold environment there is a chance that not as many cases of piracy could occur due to the harsher conditions that would make it hard for smaller boats to navigate. However, the Arctic ecosystem is a delicate one because it has been relatively untouched due to the extent of sea ice and with a sudden influx of large ships not only further breaking up the ice but also creating noise pollution (which interrupts whale communication and can lead to separation and changing migration patterns) for many of the biotic organisms in the ecosystem. However, you could argue that with the current rapid advancement in technology the ships could make less noise but shipping companies will be opposed to making new and therefore more expensive boats when their old ones work perfectly fine. The warmer waters which will be increasing as a result of the ice melting means that the ocean conveyor belt system will be significantly affected. The cold waters in the high latitude locations sink and these sinking and rising patterns fuel the current patterns. For example the Antarctic circumpolar current moves water around the Antarctic into the southern ocean which then takes it further north. This current is vital for the krill that are found here, the nutrients that are brought in the water mean that they can thrive and feed off of the organisms such as zooplankton. Overall, the shipping routes which are affected as a result of the melting sea ice have more social advantages however, there are minimal environmental benefits of sea ice melting and therefore there are more disadvantages because humans will be affected by the physical changes in the world even if it is not a direct impact.
The changes in sea ice especially focussing in on the Arctic will bring both positives and negatives in relation to geopolitical aspects of the situation. At this current moment in time the Arctic separates Alaska and Russia, neither one can use the Arctic for shipping routes due to the extent of which is frozen over. It is also an international marine area which means no country is allowed to lay claim to any part of it, despite this fact Russia has “claimed” it by putting a flag in the middle of the Arctic. The changes in Arctic sea ice will bring disadvantages because the two countries will have to talk to each other to debate who has control of the Arctic ocean. The shipping routes might also create military tension because if American ships come a little too close to Russian shores there could be significant provocation into a confrontation. As the ice melts the North East Passage, North West Passage and North East Sea Route through the Arctic will become more accessible to larger ships and goes close to the Russian and American coasts, where no ships have been able to go before due to the presence of the Arctic ice sheet. The advantageous aspect of this is that the increase in the shrinking world effect will mean more vessels can transport goods, faster and more efficiently which increases the interconnectedness of the world, leading to further developments. Moreover, the pressure that this will take off of the Panama Canal and the Strait of Malacca will be beneficial to the movement of more cargo. However, this could also bring geopolitical rivalries because it is taking the business away from these places because the Arctic is another way of getting across the world. There are many unknown geopolitical advantages and disadvantages due to the fact that the Arctic ice has not melted enough for shipping routes to be opened or for resources to be exploited yet, however conflict over this area is inevitable in the future.
The Antarctic is protected under the NATO Antarctic treaty in which no one can claim the land. The future for the Antarctic is more stable than the one for the Arctic because it is a land mass and less sea ice will not affect this, there will be obvious marine and land ecosystem change but not much that will challenge the geopolitical aspect of claims to the land. Overall, the changes in Arctic sea ice will bring mainly geopolitical disadvantages because the ice will no longer separate the 2 conflicting global superpowers and there is much unknown as to what the future between the two over the ocean will hold.
The changes in sea ice will mean that oil and gas reserves will open up accessibility in order for different powers to exploit resources found in and below the Arctic ocean and the ice currently there and the debate of whether to exploit it or not is preventing humans from accessing this area. Russia and America’s EEZ overlap over the Arctic ocean which will provide political tensions. Russia has already attempted to lay claim to it by putting a flag in the Arctic ice which shows that Russia is extremely interested in the economic value that is currently lying beneath the sea ice. However, America and other international powers from around the world will want a share of this newly discovered oil and gas reserve. Not only will there be political disadvantages to do with the mining but also economic ones. If the oil and gas reserve does get exploited, this new influx of oil into the global market will decrease oil prices. But the advantage is that it will take the pressure off of the middle east where there is mass conflict displacing millions of people. The mass change in ice will allow humans to exploit this resource which would mean many environmental disadvantages because of the main reason, that the Arctic marine ecosystem has been relatively untouched for a long time and has made specific adaptations over time. If humans exploit the resources significant changes will occur to the delicate ecosystem and these changes could destroy it and make species of biotic organisms that are unknown to us now. There is so much that we do not know about the oceans and for us to impact it in such an invasive and permanent way will not have advantages. Additionally, the sea ice changes will leave the reserves open that it is inevitable that the resources will be exploited, and there is always a chance that spills, like Deepwater Horizon can occur which will further exacerbate the damage especially to such a fragile ecosystem. Overall, the changes in the sea ice will mean that mining opportunities are more realistic but the economic advantages of the oil and gas reserves do not outweigh the disadvantages of the damage that could be and will be done to the delicate ecosystem that is found underneath the Arctic ice.
In conclusion, the changes in sea ice does not only bring disadvantages because there are many economic advantages due to shipping routes being opened, and oil and gas reserves being able to be exploited. However, the changes in sea ice only bring disadvantages in an environmental sense because the ecosystem cannot adapt as fast as the changes are occurring, and many species whose habitats are found there will not survive. The outcome of the geopolitical aspect of the Arctic Ocean especially, once there is almost no sea ice, is definitely unknown because two competitive global superpowers both can claim their rights to the ocean and its resources. It does not only bring disadvantages, but in my view there are just more of them as the changes in sea ice will ruin an entire delicate ecosystem permanently.