By: Elizabeth Werner
Ice caps help to maintain the earth's climate by reflecting solar radiation back into space and supplying fresh water to marine ecosystems. However, these ice caps are melting and have been melting at a rapid pace due to the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We are now entering the point of no return, as it is estimated that by 2050 there will be no free ice in the sea (Weber, 2021).
Each year glaciers are now losing 267 billion tonnes of ice (Weber, 2021). This is severely affecting wildlife. The polar bear is being highly affected by the melting of the ice caps and now has to migrate to land due to the lack of ice in the ocean. On land, there is less food supply, causing many of them to be malnourished. The narwhal is also facing threats. With the ocean warming, killer whales are migrating north and hunting the narwhal.
Why should Canadians care about the diminishing populations of animals and the decrease of ice caps? Well, in the territories many communities are already seeing the effects from the melting of these polar ice caps. The people of the Kluane First Nation in the community of Burwash Landing, Yukon, have seen a change in their waterways due to the melting of arctic ice caps. Their main source of water supply, the Slims River, has dried up, and levels of nearby lakes have also seen a major decrease, causing water shortage in the community. In Nunavut, around 38,000 people are at risk of losing their homes due to the melting of these ice caps as well (Fokkens, 2020).
Many Indigenous and northern communities in Canada are facing direct impact due to increasing sea levels caused by the melting of polar ice caps. Their communities are prone to mass floods and an increase in diseases. They are also facing food insecurity as traditional hunting is becoming more challenging, both due to the change of animal migration routes and the decrease of animal populations as a consequence of climate change.
Northern Canada is not the only region that will be affected by the loss of ice caps. See, the arctic ice caps are not the only ice caps found in Canada. The Canadian Rockies are considered an ice cap and supply water to Western Canada. If we continue the path we are heading, the Rocky Mountains could lose around 90% of glacier ice volume (Rieger, 2020). This will lead to water shortages all around Alberta. With the loss of glacier ice volume as many one out of four Albertans will face a water crisis. It is estimated that around one million of the 4.4 million Albertans will be affected including urban areas like Edmonton (Rieger, 2020).
British Columbia will also be highly affected from the melting of the ice caps. One of BC’s iconic glaciers called the Comox Glacier is continuing to decrease, which supplies drinking water for around 50,000 residents of the Comox Valley (Kloster, 2021). Due to the decrease in glacier volume there is an increased risk of floods caused by an increased amount of water in nearby streams. We have already seen the damage of flooding in B.C this summer and it will only get worse.
The decrease in water supply, food shortages, increased number of national disasters, and loss of homes are only some of the consequences we face. We could also see newer diseases, as viruses are trapped in these glaciers and may be released into the environment through ice melting. In the Guliya ice cap in Western China, scientists found 33 viruses that are 15,000 years old trapped in these glaciers (Bressan, 2021). This just adds yet another reason to help stop the melting of ice caps.
So, how can you help the cause? Here are some small ways that you can help in your everyday life just by reducing energy and improving your ecological footprint:
1. Transition to a mostly plant-based diet, which has a much lower carbon footprint than a meat-heavy diet
2. Reduce water by taking showers instead of baths, and turning off the water while you brush your teeth
3. Shop sustainable fashion by thrifting, rather than shopping fast-fashion
4. Refuse single-use plastics such as coffee cups and plastic bottles, and shop at bulk package-free stores
5. Carpool, bike, use public transit or walk instead of driving
6. Reduce electricity consumption by unplugging electronics when not in use, turning off lights when leaving a room, layering up instead of turning the heat up, and hanging laundry outside to dry when possible
Bressan, D. (2021, July 21). Glacier Ice Reveals Previously Unknown Viruses. Forbes.
Fokkens, C. (2020, January 17). How climate change affects Nunavut and its inhabitants.
Kloster, D. (2021, October 24). ‘Receding before our eyes:’ Vancouver Island glaciers likely to be all gone by the mid-century. Vancouver Sun. https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/receding-before-our-eyes-vancouver-isla nd-glaciers-likely-to-be-all-gone-by-mid-century
Reiger, S. (2021, August 10). Melting glaciers will bring instability to more than 1 million Albertans’ water supply. Canadian BroadCast Centre.
Weber, B. (2021, April 28). The world’s glaciers are melting way faster than before, study says. Canadian BroadCast Centre.