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 user 2007-09-10 at 10:05:00 am Views: 93
  • #18714

    Scientists Make Dire Forecast for Alaska
    Alaska (Sept. 07) – An analysis of 20 years’ worth of real-life
    observations supports recent U.N. computer predictions that by 2050,
    summer sea ice off Alaska’s north coast will probably shrink to nearly
    half the area it covered in the 1980s, federal scientists say.The
    summer sea ice off Alaska’s north coast will likely shrink considerably
    by 2050, said James Overland of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
    Administration. Here, a ship is seen 50 miles north of Point Barrow in
    2002.Such a loss could have profound effects on mammals dependent on
    the sea ice, such as polar bears, now being considered for threatened
    species status because of changes in habitat due to global warming . It
    could also threaten the catch of fishermen.In the 1980s, sea ice
    receded 30 to 50 miles each summer off the north coast, said James
    Overland, a Seattle-based oceanographer for the National Oceanic and
    Atmospheric Administration.

    “Now we’re talking about 300 to 500 miles north of Alaska,” he said of projections for 2050.
    far past the edge of the highly productive waters over the relatively
    shallow continental shelf, considered important habitat for polar bears
    and their main prey, ringed seals, as well as other ice-dependent
    mammals, such as walrus.The NOAA researchers reviewed 20 computer
    scenarios of the effects of warming on sea ice, used by the United
    Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its assessment
    report released this year.The researchers compared those models with
    observations from 1979 through 1999, Overland said, and concluded that
    the summer ice in the Beaufort Sea likely will have diminished by 40
    percent, compared with its 1980s area.The same is likely for the East
    Siberian-Chukchi Sea region off northwest Alaska and Russia. In
    contrast, Canada’s Baffin Bay and Labrador showed little predicted
    change.There was less confidence for winter ice, but the models also
    predict a sea ice loss of more than 40 percent for the Bering Sea off
    Alaska’s west coast, the Sea of Okhotsk east of Siberia and the Barents
    Sea north of Norway.The research paper by Overland and Muyin Wang, a
    NOAA meteorologist, will be published Saturday in Geophysical Research
    Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.The situation
    is dire for polar bears, said Kassie Siegel of the Center for
    Biological Diversity, who wrote the petition seeking federal protection
    for the animals.’They’re going to drown, they’re going to starve,
    they’re going to resort to cannibalism, they’re going to become
    extinct,” she said.As ice recedes, many bears will get stuck on land in
    summer, where they have virtually no sustainable food source, Siegel
    said. Some will try and fail to swim to sea ice, she said.Bears that
    stay on sea ice will find water beyond the continental shelf to be less
    productive, she said, and females trying to den on land in the fall
    will face a long swim.”It’s absolutely horrifying from the polar bear
    perspective,” she said.

    Less sea ice also will mean a changing ecosystem for commercial fishermen and marine mammals in the Bering Sea, Overland said.With
    sea ice present, many of the nutrients produced in the ocean feed
    simple plankton that bloom and sink to the ocean floor, providing rich
    habitat for crabs, clams and the mammals that feed on them, including
    gray whales and walrus.”If you don’t have the ice around, the
    productivity stays up closer to the surface of the ocean,” Overland
    said. “You actually have a change in the whole ecosystem from one that
    depends on the animals that live on the bottom to one that depends on
    the animals that live in the water column. So you have winners and
    losers.”That could mean short-term gains for salmon and pollock, he
    said. But it also could mean that fishermen will have to travel farther
    north to fish in Alaska’s productive waters, and warm-water predators
    might move north.The contribution to warming by greenhouse gas
    emissions likely is set, he said. Emissions stay in the atmosphere for
    40 to 50 years before the ocean absorbs them. The amount emitted in the
    past 20 years and the carbon dioxide put out in the next 20 will
    linger, Overland said.”I’m afraid to say, a lot of the images we are
    going to see in the next 30 to 40 years are pretty much already
    established,” he said.