Friday, December 12, 2008

The Arctic as the canary in the coal mine

IPS: Nearly 1,000 scientists and representatives of indigenous peoples from 16 countries have braved a major winter storm to share their findings and concerns about the rapidly warming Arctic region at the International Arctic Change conference in Quebec City.

The Arctic is "ground zero" for climate change, with temperatures rising far faster than anywhere else on the planet. Some predict an ice-free summer Arctic in less than five to 10 years -- the first time the Arctic Ocean will be exposed to the sun in many hundreds of thousands of years. The speed of change has scientists scrambling to understand the impacts on indigenous people, wildlife and ecology.

"The Arctic will be full of future surprises," said David Carlson, an oceanographer and director of the International Polar Year programme office. "Protected by its cover of sea ice, the Arctic Ocean is the last unblemished ocean on the planet," Carlson told IPS.

…Interest in the Arctic has never been higher. Governments are concerned about sovereignty issues -- such as who owns the Arctic seafloor. Corporations are interested in extracting oil, gas and minerals and the possibility of a new cost-saving sea route over the top of the world. Indigenous peoples are struggling as the landscape melts from under their buildings and their traditional "country foods" decline.

…However, much of the new government interest is driven by the Arctic's economic potential in terms of energy and mineral resources and the potential of a new shipping route through the Arctic Ocean when the summer is ice has melted.…[R]ecent multi-billion-dollar oil and gas leases granted by Canada to drill in the Arctic's Beaufort Sea carry a condition that requires energy companies to do test drilling within five years, said Martin Fortier….

Caspar David Friedrich's "Wrack im Eismeer"

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