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Rediff.com  » News » Polar ice pack shrinking; warmest summer in 400 yrs: NASA

Polar ice pack shrinking; warmest summer in 400 yrs: NASA

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September 28, 2005 09:47 IST

New satellite photos show that the polar ice pack has shrunk by 30 per cent since 1978 and the melting is speeding up, causing the warmest summer in 400 years and changing the flora and fauna and culture of the region, according to a NASA report to be released this weekend.

Scientists said Artic may be caught in a "vicious cycle" of global warming. As ice melts, there is less white matter to reflect sun's heat back into space. The dark ocean absorbs more of sun's heat and that, in turn, melts more of the ice pack.

Since melting permafrost leaves the ground soft and with far less frozen surface to block the waves, the water carves away at it. Old graves are tumbling into the sea, the ABC television network said, quoting the report.

"They keep getting exposed. People do not really want to see their ancestors getting washed into the ocean," ABC quoted a scientist as saying.

Foul weather over Kyoto

The network showed images of whole villages tumbling into the ocean, forcing people as well as animals to relocate from Point Barrow in Alaska on the northern tip of America.

Now scientists are watching the birds get driven out by puffins, warmer weather birds from the sub-Arctic, which kill the chicks and take over the nests.

"Yesterday, it was the Arctic, and now suddenly, it is turning into the sub-Arctic!" said biologist George Divoky.

Typically in the Arctic, any ground deeper than about four feet has always been frozen. But the permafrost is now starting to melt.As the sea ice disappears, many polar bears are starving because they must have sea ice on which to hunt, the report said.

And the culture of local residents, whose life has centered upon hunting on the ice, is changing as well, the network added.

"It's often too dangerous now, due to the thin ice," said Fred Simik, an Inupiat native.

Another cause for worry for the scientists were that as the permafrost melts and this vast Arctic tundra dries up, decaying plants in the soil are releasing increased amounts of carbon, a greenhouse gas that only adds to the warming and melting.

"Humans are putting about 6 or 7 billion metric tons of carbon in the atmosphere every year," ABC quoted biologist
Walter Oechel, director of the Global Change Research Institute at San Diego State University as saying.

"And we're standing on 200 billion tons here," he added, pointing to the tundra.

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