climate change: report from the Arctic


Richard Moore

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Wednesday » January 2 » 2008

'Frightening' projection for Arctic melt
Ice-free passage possible by 2010

Marianne White
CanWest News Service

Friday, November 16, 2007

QUEBEC -- The Arctic Ocean could be free of ice in the summer as soon as 2010 or
2015 - something that hasn't happened for more than a million years, according 
to a leading polar researcher.

Louis Fortier, scientific director of ArcticNet, a Canadian research network, 
said the sea ice is melting faster than predicted by models created by 
international teams of scientists, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on 
Climate Change (IPCC).

They had forecast the Arctic Ocean could be free of summer ice as early as 2050.
But Fortier told an international conference on defence and security in Quebec 
City Thursday that the worst-case scenarios are becoming reality.

"The frightening models we didn't even dare to talk about before are now proving
to be true," Fortier told CanWest News Service, referring to computer models 
that take into account the thinning of the sea ice and the warming from the 
albedo effect - the Earth is absorbing more energy as the sea ice melts.

According to these models, there will be no sea ice left in the summer in the 
Arctic Ocean somewhere between 2010 and 2015.

"And it's probably going to happen even faster than that," said Fortier, who 
leads an international team of researchers in the Arctic looking for clues to 
climate change.

The Arctic, considered to be the barometer of global climate change, is warming 
faster than expected and this could cause global average temperatures to rise 
still more.

Fortier stressed that 90,000 square metres of sea ice melted in 2007, a 
spectacular figure that was expected to be seen in only 15 to 20 years.

"The most unbelievable thing is the total absence of ice in straits where you 
never thought you would ever be able to navigate. The changes are not 
progressive anymore, they are dramatic," he said.

The great melting, uncovering vast stretches of the Arctic Ocean, will open up 
the Northwest Passage as a shortcut to Asia, something explorers have been 
dreaming about since Christopher Columbus reached America.

"We have seen the passage open up for the second year in a row this summer. It's
going to have a tremendous impact. It will totally change the way business is 
done. For instance, you will be able to save some 12,000 kilometres on a transit
between Asia and Europe," said Fortier.

The rapid degradation of the ice cover has been a key factor in the growing 
interest among - and tensions between - Russia, Canada, the United States and 
other northern nations in securing territory, resource claims and shipping 
rights in the Arctic.

Canada claims that most of the Northwest Passage routes, which pass between many
Canadian islands across the top of the country, are inside its territorial 
waters. But the U. S. doesn't agree and wants an international passage.

Fortier approved of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's move to reassert Canadian 
sovereignty in the North - he announced in August a $100-million deep-water 
seaport on Baffin Island and a new military training centre at Resolute Bay.

"We have to increase our military presence in the Arctic, and it would be 
totally foolish not to do it," said Fortier.

"In the near future, the Arctic (Ocean) will play ... the same role the 
Mediterranean Sea played in the antiquity. So it's very important that Canada 
gains control on this huge region," he added.

© CanWest News Service 2007

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