The Arctic ice cap is melting at an unprecedented rate due to human induced global warming, according to a new study conducted by 300 scientists and elders from native communities in the arctic. Over the last 30 years the ice cap has shrunk 15-20 per cent. With the build up of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, the trend is set to accelerate with forecasts that by the summer of 2070 there maybe no ice at all.
The report said that the Arctic "is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth", Further: "Over the next 100 years climate change is expected to accelerate, contributing to major physical, ecological, social and economic changes, many of which have already begun."
It found that the Arctic ice cap is only half as thick as it was 30 years ago. The melting could cause sea levels to rise by a meter over the next century, increasing coastal flooding and disrupting the Gulf Stream, which moderates the weather of northern Europe. The melting of the Greenland ice cap is likely to further exacerbate sea level rises.
"For the past 30 years, there's been a dramatic increase in temperature and a decrease in the thickness of ice," said Robert Corell, a senior fellow with the American Meteorological Society and chairman of the Arctic climate impact assessment group, which produced the report.
The 144-page study took four years to compile under the auspices of the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is comprised of the governments of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
The report emphasised that some short term gains may be seen, such as the creation of a "northern passage" for shipping between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, new areas for fishing, mining and oil and gas exploration.
Against this, several fish and mammal species could succumb to climate change, including the Polar Bear. The elimination of summer sea ice will threaten the polar bear with extinction.
Reference: Key Findings
Environmentalists warn "cut emissions of carbon dioxide now"
Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) global climate change campaign, Jennifer Morgan, said "The big melt has begun, .... Life on Earth will change beyond recognition with the loss of the ice sheet at the north pole and higher sea levels threatening major global cities such as London."
"Industrial countries are carrying out an uncontrolled experiment to study the effects of climate change and the Arctic is their first guinea pig," Ms Morgan said.
"This is unethical and wrong. They must cut emissions of carbon dioxide now."
United States, Australia inaction on Greenhouse emissions
The United States is the largest contibutor to Green House gas emissions, mainly through the use of cars and industry. The United States has spent eight billion dollars on climate change research in recent years, but says mandatory carbon dioxide cuts, as demanded under the Kyoto treaty, could lead to job loses and an economic downturn. The United States Government has refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty, along with Australia. George Bush pulled out of the UN's Kyoto protocol on global warming in 2001, arguing it was too expensive.
There are no statements from the US Government about compensating those peoples affected by rising sea levels. There are currently 17 million people living less than one metre above sea level in Bangladesh. Rising Sea Levels will place under threat: some Pacific Island nations, Florida and Louisiana in the United States, and the Asian cities of Bangkok, Calcutta, Dhaka and Manila. Much agricultural land will also be put under risk.
Accusation: Report delayed for US Presidential election?
The full report is due to be released on November 9, but its summary findings were leaked to the media early. Several of the Europeans involved accused the Bush Administration of delaying publication until after the presidential election, due to the political contentiousness of global warming. But Gunnar Palsson of Iceland, chairman of the Arctic Council, said there was "no truth to the contention that any of the member states of the Arctic Council pushed the release of the report back into November".
Paal Prestrud, vice-chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, said "We are taking a risk with the global climate,".
For Extra information:
* The Arctic Council
* The big melt (WWF)
* Arctic sea ice changes in gfdl r30 greenhouse scenario experiments
* Is Arctic sea ice rapidly vanishing? (2002)
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