I’m old enough to notice that the high tide level has risen in the Nova Scotian estuary I haunted in my youth. Fifty years. What changes will we see in the next fifty years? Presently, I live in the eastern portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), where pack ice and icebergs visit our shores; cooling our spring, delaying our summer. The ice is however, less of a factor than even thirty years ago (CBC – Feb. 4/2020). Why is the less ice a concern? Indigenous knowledge of the ice is comprehensive, more than the nuance understanding that is my trivial fifty four years. Sheila (Siila) Watt-Cloutier (2015) states:
The whole planet benefits from a frozen Arctic and Inuit still have much to teach the world about the vital importance of Arctic ice, not only to our culture, but to the health of the rest of the planet.
Research and most of humanity has been slow to respond to indigenous reports of climate change emergencies. Our support may be too late - there is a consensus that the Arctic will be ice free this century (CBC – Nov. 25/2019), a significant problem for all living things. There are, however, specific planetary concerns that I share with ocean lovers– we may see changes in ocean currents and more oxygen dead zones on the bottom of the ocean.
I first learned about the phenomenon of dead zones found in the Chesapeake Bay at NMEA 2017. The hypoxia in the Chesapeake is caused by eutrophication and the resulting over consumption of oxygen by algae blooms. I fear the northern dead zones may be much larger and impact delicate deep ocean ecosystems.
While the human inhabitants of NL would love warmer springs, this does not bode well for ocean bottom dwellers. It is vital that cold, dense water surface water falls to the bottom of the ocean (see the image below as a demonstration).
As this water falls it contributes to currents, like the Labrador Current, sweeping nutrients like oxygen to the bottom, enriching benthic habitats and supporting a host of species adapted to live in this deep, cold, dark place. Another seldom considered factor related to ice and our warming planet is albedo. An ocean that is less reflective will gain more heat – this must factor into any model of climate change.
The Concord Consortium Model is an online resource that models gases, heat, and rays vs human emissions while graphing the air temperature and greenhouse gas concentration. This also includes a model of ice cover and glaciers on land. Note how the ice disappears from years 2020 to 2035 (model images below).
When the sea ice is gone, icebergs melt faster, add this to the increasing loss of water from the ice sheet from Greenland, and we not only have an ocean current problem, we have a rising sea level issue (NOAA sea level rise viewer)!
I have a lot of reviewing to do! I must examine documented seasonal ice patterns from the east coast of NL to get an animation on the level that NASA has for Arctic Sea Ice (Link!). I find the patterns and models from satellite and aerial reconnaissance match up with local experiences from indigenous peoples (CBC, Dec. 5. 2019). This knowledge can help explain patterns – settlers have hundreds of years of experience documenting and modeling, indigenous elders have several millennia! This combined knowledge and drive gives me hope for the future, however, the window of opportunity is shrinking.