National Research Council compiles latest Arctic research
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Global warming is changing Earth’s polar regions faster than expected, according to the U.S. National Research Council.
Ice sheets around the poles are showing evidence of serious retreat, which is expected to continue, and perhaps accelerate over coming centuries as warm ocean currents melt the ice front faster than anyone had grasped before. As, well, sea level rise from melting polar ice sheets is today slowly affecting every shoreline on the planet.
The findings were compiled in a synthesis of reports from thousands of scientists in 60 countries who took part in the International Polar Year 2007-08. The studies offer a benchmark for environmental conditions and new discoveries in the polar regions.
“As a result of this work, we have a new benchmark,” said University of Massachusetts Amherst geosciences researcher Julie Brigham-Grette,who co-chaired the NRC report. “Seven of 12 Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves are either gone or now in severe decline,” she said. “This type of information makes the report all the more important because the changes we expect to see in the next few decades are going to be incredible.”
Worldwide, scores of oceanographers, meteorologists, geologists, climate scientists, ecologists and other researchers contributed to the report.
Bologists, for example, have document diatoms, microscopic phytoplankton at the base of the food chain, in North Atlantic waters where they hadn’t been in 800,000 years, the last time the Arctic provided a cold barrier to migration, Brigham-Grette said.
“We’re beginning to see that when the west Antarctic ice sheet collapses, the Arctic warms up. This is a new benchmark linking warming events in these two places for the first time.”
“I think if you look at everything we’ve learned, we see the polar regions are much more vulnerable to global warming than we thought. Global biological and oceanographic systems are responding faster than we ever expected. Earth has gone through this before, and some past warm cycles have been extreme, but we as humans have never seen anything like it in our 10,000 years on the planet. It’s extraordinary.”
As they release the NRC report to policymakers this week, Brigham-Grette said the authors understand that leaders must try to balance the country’s energy needs at the same time they address global climate change by decreasing fossil fuel use.
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