12 December 2006

Rightwing myths melting before our very eyes

This is quite a thought: We might be crossing the North Pole on summer cruises within our lifetimes. Of course, global warming would undoubtedly bring both benefits and disasters depending on region where you live. My only thought is that it would be nice to put just a little teensy bit more research into our actions before we decide to alter the climate over the entire planet.

Ice-free North Pole by 2040

Ice is melting so fast in the Arctic that the North Pole will be in the open sea within 30 years. Ships will be able to sail over the top of the world, and tourists will be able visit what was, until climate change, one of the planet's most inaccessible landscapes. US researchers, assessing the impact of carbon emissions on world climate, have calculated that late summer in the Arctic will be ice-free by 2040 or earlier. Some ice would still be found on coastlines, notably in Greenland and Ellesmere Island, but the rest of the Arctic Ocean, including the pole, would be open water. The researchers, funded by NASA, said the ice retreat was likely to remain constant until 2024, when the process would suddenly quicken. In 30 to 50 years, they concluded, summer sea-ice would have vanished from almost the entire Arctic region. But their forecast may already be out of date, says Chris Rapley, head of the British Antarctic Survey. He said a recent study suggested emissions were rising more than twice as fast as in 2000, and this was likely to speed up ice loss even further. "The study may be an underestimate of when the Arctic summer ice might be all gone," he said. During the past 25 years, Arctic ice has been reduced by 25 per cent. Scientists have long known that ice reflects heat, and as the quantity reduces so does the amount of heat that can be bounced away from the Earth. However, the study team from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, and two US universities, identified warmer ocean currents as an additional factor.

Disappearing ice is already causing problems for polar bears. Other wildlife, including seals, are also likely to suffer. "We have already witnessed major losses in sea ice, but our research suggests the decrease over the next few decades could be far more dramatic than anything that has happened so far," said Marika Holland, who led the polar warming study. "As the ice retreats, the ocean transports more heat to the Arctic and the open water absorbs more sunlight, further accelerating the rate of warming and leading to the loss of more ice."

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