Could Melting Ice Caps Reduce Global Warming?

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ice caps

New Scientist reports a controversial study that melting ice caps could actually weaken the greenhouse effect. Stanford University scientists studied satellite data from 1998 to 2007 to evaluate changes in sea surface temperatures and quantities of sea ice and phytoplankton (increased phytoplankton activity removes atmospheric carbon). What they found is startling— phytoplankton grew more in areas where ice was disappearing.

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Essentially, the melting northern polar ice cap is opening up a new carbon sink that can soak up carbon dioxide. Right now, however, the sink is only able to account for 0.7 percent of our total annual carbon emissions. For productivity to rise further, more nutrients need to be brought to the Arctic surface waters. But this is unlikely—the arctic doesn’t contain many surface water nutrients.

While melting ice caps may mean a slight reduction in greenhouse gases, they also mean a drastic change in the Arctic food chain. And we may not care about atmospheric CO2 levels if our cities are flooded due to climate change. So even if melting ice caps have a slight silver lining, we shouldn’t necessarily encourage their demise.

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