Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Polar research reveals new evidence of global environmental change

E-Science News: The wide-ranging IPY [International Polar Year] findings result from more than 160 endorsed science projects assembled from researchers in more than 60 countries. Launched in March 2007, the IPY covers a two-year period to March 2009 to allow for observations during the alternate seasons in both polar regions. A joint project of WMO and ICSU, IPY spearheaded efforts to better monitor and understand the Arctic and Antarctic regions, with international funding support of about US$ 1.2 billion over the two-year period. "The International Polar Year 2007 – 2008 came at a crossroads for the planet's future" said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of WMO. "The new evidence resulting from polar research will strengthen the scientific basis on which we build future actions."

Catherine Br├ęchignac, President of ICSU, adds "the planning for IPY set ambitious goals that have been achieved, and even exceeded, thanks to the tireless efforts, enthusiasm, and imagination of thousands of scientists, working with teachers, artists, and many other collaborators." IPY has provided a critical boost to polar research during a time in which the global environment is changing faster than ever in human history. It now appears clear that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass contributing to sea level rise. Warming in the Antarctic is much more widespread than it was thought prior to the IPY, and it now appears that the rate of ice loss from Greenland is increasing.

Researchers also found that in the Arctic, during the summers of 2007 and 2008, the minimum extent of year-round sea ice decreased to its lowest level since satellite records began 30 years ago. IPY expeditions recorded an unprecedented rate of sea-ice drift in the Arctic as well. Due to g
lobal warming, the types and extent of vegetation in the Arctic shifted, affecting grazing animals and hunting. Other evidence for global warming comes from IPY research vessels that have confirmed above-global-average warming in the Southern Ocean. A freshening of the bottom water near Antarctica is consistent with increased ice melt from Antarctica and could affect ocean circulation. Global warming is thus affecting Antarctica in ways not previously identified.

..IPY has also given atmospheric research new insight. Researchers have discovered that North Atlantic storms are major sources of heat and moisture for the polar regions. Understanding these mechanisms will improve forecasts of the path and intensity of storms. Studies of the ozone hole have benefited from IPY research as well, with new connections identified between the ozone concentrations above Antarctica and wind and storm conditions over the Southern Ocean. This information will improve predictions of climate and ozone depletion....

The dome at the Amundsen-Scott station in Antartica, with a foreground of sastrugi, shot by Bill McAfee for the National Science Foundation

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