Pollack: ice melt affects arctic life

Geophysicist Dr. Henry Pollack, an emeritus professor of the University of Michigan, lectures on the effects of diminishing sea ice on the Artic region like shoreline erosion, permafrost melting and glacier movement. Colby Patterson
Geophysicist Henry Pollack, an emeritus professor of the University of Michigan, lectures on the effects of diminishing sea ice on the arctic region such as shoreline erosion, permafrost melting and glacier movement. Photo by Erin Burns.

Geophysicist Henry Pollack, an emeritus professor of the University of Michigan, lectures on the effects of diminishing sea ice on the arctic region such as shoreline erosion, permafrost melting and glacier movement. Photo by Erin Burns.

Caring about the fate of polar bears may actually be an important key to understanding global climate change.

Henry Pollack, emeritus professor of geophysics at the University of Michigan studies the temperature change in the North and South Poles because he thinks they are the best indicators of global trends.

“The warming over the globe is not uniform by any means,” Pollack said. “The Poles are the canaries in the coal mines,” he said when he spoke at the U on Tuesday, March 18.

Pollack, who has a Ph.D in geophysics and was a member of the panel that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, talked about climate and global warming with the audience, focusing on misconceptions about the climate and the difference between the North and South Poles.

Pollack’s lecture focused on the ice melt happening in the arctic.

He said the exponential differences between the arctic and antarctic affect climate change in these areas. The arctic area supports a population, whereas the antarctic does not. Shoreline erosion, the melting of areas that meet with the ocean, poses a greater threat in the arctic areas and has already caused some towns to move as far as a kilometer inward to avoid being overwhelmed by the ocean.

Pollack also addressed public misconceptions of global warming. He said year-to-year trends fluctuate, but the graphs’ lines of best fit show a dramatic increase in the earth’s temperature since the mid-19th century.

Though it has become a stereotypical element of climate change, Pollack said climate change does affect animals that live in the arctic, specifically seals and polar bears. Pollack said the warming is causing a breakage in sea ice, which stays above the water when it becomes frozen — and greatly affects the eating and breeding habits of both animals.

In the last 100 years, the amount of time it takes to travel by ship through the Northwest Passage has changed drastically. The first trip through the path began in 1903 and took years. In 2012, the same trip only took Pollack three weeks.

“And it wasn’t because we had a better ship — it was because there was no ice,” he said.

Glaciers everywhere are melting, as is a large portion of Greenland. One glacier in specific, Jakobshavn, which lies west of Greenland, has reached a point where its melting is severe enough to cause it to move over 40 meters per day. Pollack said some of the melting in the arctic has become so serious there are summers with no sea ice at all.

Jake Flanigan, a graduate student in Earth sciences, said the presentation gave him a whole new idea not only of climate, but also of the world map in general.

“I really liked the projection on the Northern part,” he said. “It was really surprising to see how close Canada is to Russia if you go across the North.”

ivy.smith@chronicle.utah.edu