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Arctic Icemelt

07/02/02 12:00AM By Ruth Page
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(Host) Probably the biggest change occurring in Earth's climate is the rapid warming in the Arctic. Commentator Ruth Page looks at some of the implications for humans, animals and plants.

(Page) The whales are skinny and so sick the sled dogs won't eat their meat. Sea ice is disappearing so fast that walruses are scarce, seabirds are washing up dead, deformed seal pups are common, and even tundra rabbits are becoming rare. According to a story in a recent Los Angeles Times, Eskimos in Siberia and other high Arctic areas are suffering from a ten-degree F increase in temperature, far greater than rises on the rest of the planet. No one is tying this warming to human behavior. In fact, no one has any explanation, though the seriousness of the changes marks a huge climatic switch on Planet Earth.

Zoya Telpina teaches school in an outpost of 350 Chukchi reindeer herders and marine mammal hunters in Siberia. She couldn't imagine a winter sea that wasn't frozen in an immensely thick layer people could trust for travel, and polar bears could rely on. But this past winter, when Zoya looked out her kitchen window she saw open ocean for the first time in her 38 years of life. Her husband, who travels by dogsled, reported seeing tundra mushrooms shrivel, herds of reindeer starving, and willow trees growing where they'd never been able to survive before.

Northern Canada and all areas high within the Arctic Circle note that sea ice covers 15% less of the ocean than it did in 1980. Where ice is still in place, it has thinned from ten feet thick to less than six feet. Scientists studying the changes declare that the year-round sea ice and all the life it supports could be gone in fifty years. Our U.S. Navy is already planning for an ice-free Arctic, and seeking ways to defend a Northwest Passage that will no longer be protected from attack by ice barriers.

Huge land masses on other parts of the Earth help to stabilize the temperature, but the seabound far North is extremely sensitive to warming. That could lead to starvation for huge numbers of sea animals and the humans who depend on them for food.

There's no long history of weather records for Earth's far north zones. The local people report that for some years they've had more snow in winter, and chillier summers. Scientists are not surprised: the warmer winter air causes more storms and snowfalls in winter; all the ice that melts in summer leads to cooler temperatures on nearby land masses.

No doubt it's exciting to live in an era when vast changes are occurring on our planet. If we could concentrate on trying to understand them, it would be a gripping experience. Unfortunately, we humans are making such a mess of our so-called civilizations, our time has to be spent trying to figure out ways to control terrorists, stop fighting among ourselves, and keep a growing population fed and housed.

This is Ruth Page, talking with you about one great change taking place in our earthly environment.
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