Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eastern Arctic warming trend alarms scientists

From NunatsiaqOnline:

OTTAWA— You might think of scientists as calm and cool.

But the first three presenters during the opening session of the three-day ArcticNet conference in Ottawa sounded alarmed by the increasingly visible signs of Arctic warming and the limited amount of money that Canada will spend to understand what’s happening.

Ice has cracked up — once in a while taking Nunavut hunters with it. Lakes continue to dry up, while permafrost melts and the tundra is greening, 650 scientists, officials and northerners heard Dec. 15.

Observations from the ground in the Eastern Arctic, from places like Iqaluit — where ice in Frobisher Bay is only now forming — and views taken by satellites at 500 kilometres above the earth’s surface showed ArcticNet participants that ice formation in 2010 is abnormally slow.

So far this winter, it’s been “very, very slow,” and like last year “very late in freezing up,” said Trudy Wohlleben, an ice forecaster with the Canadian Ice Service.

The most “unusual things [are] going on in the winter,” Wohlleben said.

Nothing is progressing as it used to, she said, listing a string of peculiar happenings:

• air temperatures 20 C above normal at the beginning of the year in the Baffin Island communities of Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq;

• large ice cracks south of Resolute Bay last January, which caused a hunter to float off on an ice floe;

• and other cracks in land-fast ice spreading throughout the High Arctic islands, endangering research stations, causing problems for polar trekkers and swallowing up a Twin Otter.

This past spring, ice on Hudson Bay broke up three to four weeks earlier, and the Nares Strait between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, which usually freezes fast from February to July, never froze up solid.

This year, looking ahead into 2011, may carry similar surprises, with recent air temperatures 20 C registering above average over the Foxe Basin, Wohlleben said.

Weak ice could also lead to more storms as ice cracks cause water temperatures to warm and then lead to even more ice break-up and more storms in a frightening loop.

What’s needed is more monitoring with more remote sensing devices like the buoys dropped on ice lands earlier this year, she said.

More monitoring of lakes and other fresh waterways also needs to be done, because they’re good indicators of climate change, said Frederick Wrona from the University of Victoria...

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