“What happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay in the Arctic”: rising sea levels risk 1.5m UK properties
13 October 2023
The report points to research that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the globe - urging the Government to move the Arctic up the political agenda, be more ambitious in reducing domestic emissions, and lead efforts to champion Arctic science globally.
Professor Helen Findlay, Biological Oceanographer at PML - and whose research encompasses the Arctic Ocean - submitted evidence to the inquiry, that included the expertise of her fellow PML colleagues. She describes some of the potential national impacts:
“The melting of Greenland’s ice sheets, together with loss of glacial ice, will cause sea levels to rise globally. But on a national level, it is the coastal communities of the UK who are most at risk of flooding. Even if the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to below 2 °C is met, there is significant risk of flooding and enhanced storm surges in low-lying areas across the UK, resulting in damage to property and infrastructure.”
Above: Flooding in York, UK
“The Arctic also plays a crucial role in global weather patterns, which means that changes in the Arctic can lead to changes in weather patterns across the world. This includes more extreme weather events such as heatwaves, storms and flooding in the UK.”
There are also heavy implications for Arctic marine ecosystems, she explains:
“The melting Arctic sea ice has led to the loss of habitat for a range of species across the whole food web, from the primary producers (sea ice algae), through to fish (polar cod juvenile habitats), through to top predators like seals, walruses and polar bears. These shifts change the delicately balanced food web structure, resulting, for example, in loss of food availability for some species and increased competition for resources for others. These changes can lead to a decline in Arctic populations as well as cause a restructuring of the food web.”
Above: The bearded seal, found in and near to the Arctic Ocean
“Ultimately these changes could affect the UK’s fishing and tourist industries that have interest in both the fisheries and ecosystem state more broadly.”
And more widely, there are consequences for the health of our ocean and its ability to absorb and store carbon - one of our greatest allies against climate change. She explains:
“Melting sea ice and land ice in the Arctic has also affected the ocean’s ability to take up carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as well as buffer the changes in ocean chemistry from the uptake of carbon dioxide. Ocean acidification is occurring most rapidly in the Arctic because of increased meltwater and loss of sea ice. These additional factors (freshening, acidification), are compounding the declines in biodiversity observed from Arctic sea ice loss alone.”
Professor Findlay stresses the need for investing in Arctic research, but says we already know enough to act.
“We know enough to act now. There is an urgent need for increased ambition on mitigating climate change. And there is also a need for continued investment into Arctic research. By supporting Arctic research, the UK gains a better understanding of the impacts of climate change and the consequences of change on the UK and the rest of the world. Arctic research can help the UK inform policy decisions and develop evidence-based approaches to address the challenges being faced in the region and globally.”