5 June 2007 is World Environment Day and the slogan for this year is ‘Melting Ice – a Hot Topic?’ In support of International Polar Year, the theme focuses on the effects that climate change is having on polar ecosystems and communities, and the ensuing consequences around the world.
Ice, in the form of sea ice, glaciers, ice caps and snow, plays a critical role in climate change and the Earth’s environment – it reflects some of the sun’s heat, cooling the planet in contrast to the dark surfaces of the open sea and snow-free ground which absorb heat. As ice disappears, the earth retains more of the sun’s heat and therefore warms up which, in turn, causes more ice to melt. This will have devastating consequences for the plants and animals that are adapted to the extremes of the harsh Arctic environment, e.g. polar bears and ice-dependent seals, and the people for whom these animals are a primary food source.
Melting ice is not limited to the polar areas, but also occurs in mountainous areas in many parts of the world. Ice holds large freshwater supplies and is a vital part of the ecosystem. A rise in temperature leads to a reduction of ice and snow in mountain chains, which changes the supply of freshwater via rivers. Melting polar ice sheets contribute to a rise in sea level, which affects the people living on low islands and in low lying coastal areas.
The impacts of melting ice will reach far beyond the Arctic, affecting global climate, sea level, biodiversity and many aspects of human social and economic systems.
UNEP/GRID Sioux Falls, has released a set of PowerPoint presentations entitled ‘Melting Glaciers’. This collection of slides, showing changes in melting ice measured using satellite observations, is startling evidence of the impact of a rapidly changing climate. To download the presentation go to http://www.na.unep.net/ and click on "Recent Releases".
For ideas on how the day can be commemorated, please visit The World Environment Day Alphabet – 77 Ways to Celebrate. If you live in London, World Environment Day is incorporated into London Sustainability Weeks. Last year this included events as varied as pond dipping, nature walks, business breakfasts, fair trade stalls and naked cycling! Visit the London Sustainability Weeks website for more details. The Environment Agency is challenging everyone to ask themselves the following questions and submit answers at the Mend of the World website…
- What’s the number one thing you are doing to help tackle climate change?
- What one extra thing could you do to help tackle climate change?
- What’s stopping you?
Why not let us know what you got up to for World Environment Day.