Some people say that tropical rainforests are the lungs of our planet. And it’s true, they trap a lot of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, and produce much-needed oxygen. Unfortunately, deforestation and climate change are threatening the functionality of these magnificent ecosystems which is bad news for humanity and the web of life on earth.
What you may not know is that these changes are not just driven by events in the tropics. Our climate is a complex system where even the most distant places influence weather patterns and climate far away. The relationship between different weather systems is known to climatologists as teleconnections. These teleconnections are extremely complex and have a multitude of driving forces.
However, extreme weather events are increasing in these tropical zones and evidence shows that Arctic warming and sea ice loss are large contributors. Climate modeling has revealed that temperature increase in the Northern Hemisphere has profound effects on our tropical rainforests. This has tremendous effects on both agriculture and human health.
Not only does the Arctic have an effect on weather in the tropical zones, but what happens in the tropics affects the Arctic as well. As we explore this seemingly distant connection, let’s take a look at what's going on at Santa’s workshop and what this means for our changing climate.
The Arctic is warming 2-3 times faster than the rest of the planet, and the loss of reflective ice contributes somewhere between ⅓ to ½ of earth’s warming. This rapid loss affects the Polar Jet Stream, a highway of air located in the Upper atmosphere which drives the weather patterns across the Earth.
When we have extreme warming in the Arctic, this causes a weakening of the Northward Polar jet stream. According to Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, the jet stream meanders with large upward swings and downward dips bringing with them extreme differences in both surface temperatures and moisture content of the air. What used to be a tight, and contained a stream of air has now weakened and become “wavy” or “floppy”.
The weakening means longer periods of rainfall in the “dips” and extreme droughts in the “swings”. Imagine periods ripe for superstorms with a lot of moisture to drive them, stacked against drought-stricken periods with little moisture creating dry tinder for wildfires.
Deforestation in the Tropics, as well as Arctic sea ice loss, is contributing to these extreme weather patterns. Restoring Arctic sea ice and reforestation in tropical latitudes will have mutually beneficial effects and could be the answer to stabilizing our climate.
Ice911 is an environmental nonprofit dedicated to restoring Arctic sea ice via safe, reversible albedo modification techniques, most of its work involves the use of reflective hollow glass beads. These beads are white and they are made of silica, which is the main ingredient in rocks. It is meant to stick to the darker seasonal ice and increase its reflectivity, slowing the melting rate. A thin layer of the material allows young first-year ice to act like older, multiyear ice which prevents it from disappearing completely in the next melt cycle.
This restoration is not the be all end all solution to our changing climate since we must also get a handle on CO2. Ice911’s work is meant to stabilize the jet stream by restoring the natural infrastructure of our Earth’s cooling system. This can buy us some time while we make the necessary changes to launch humanity into a sustainable future, but we must act now.
Written by Lauren Polash