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Thursday, 4 January 2007
Alaska natives left out in the cold
Patricia Cochran
VIEWPOINT
Patricia Cochran
House about to fall into the sea (Image: ANSC)

Several Alaska coastal villages are now actively trying to figure out where to move entire communities
Several coastal villages are now actively trying to figure out where to move entire communities
(Image: Alaska Native Science Commission)
While the rest of the world argues about the best way to curb future climate change, says Patricia Cochran, native communities within the Arctic Circle are having to draw on their own ancestral strengths to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
 A day after Christmas, the Anchorage Daily News ran an article about flooding and erosion in small native villages on the west coast of Alaska with names familiar to no one else except Alaskans.
But this is a very familiar story to us. With thinner sea ice arriving later and leaving earlier in the year, coastal communities are experiencing more intensified storms with larger waves than they have ever experienced.
This threat is being compounded by the loss of permafrost which has kept river banks from eroding too quickly.
The waves are larger because there is no sea ice to diminish their intensity, slamming against the west and northern shores of Alaska, causing severe storm driven coastal erosion.
It has become so serious that several coastal villages are now actively trying to figure out where to move entire communities.
While the world's politicians and media focus their attention on the big picture of agreeing the best way to curb global climate change, we are left to pick up the pieces from wasted years of inaction.
The cost to move one small village of 300 people ranges from $130m (£66m) to a high of $200m (£102m), even if the distance is a few miles, because moving means reconstructing entire water, electrical, road, airport and/or barge landing infrastructure, as well as schools and clinics.
Permafrost is melting all over Alaska as a result of rising temperatures, causing land underneath many villages to subside
From their actions, it is clear that neither the federal nor state governments are prepared for the immense cost and complexity of moving even one tiny community.
There is no lead government agency to assist communities affected by climate change events, and that is evident here in Alaska as small villages are left to take the initiative to mobilise support from a myriad government agencies to piece together some kind of incremental financial assistance.
Unlike the communities affected by Hurricane Katrina and large single storm events in major metropolitan areas of the continental US, northern coastal communities experience an insidious and gradual loss of land underneath their homes and businesses, for which there is only piecemeal assistance.
The sad fact is, according to the Army Corp of Engineers, that more than 80% of Alaskan communities (comprised mostly of indigenous peoples) are vulnerable to either coastal or river erosion.
Sun shining on ice in the Arctic

Thinning ice is having an impact on natives' traditional way of life.

(Image: AP)
Thinning ice is having an impact on natives' traditional way of life
Climate chain reaction
Natives have traditionally located their communities near water bodies for access to wild foods; so here is an example of the age-old Alaska native wisdom that "everything is connected":
Permafrost is melting all over Alaska as a result of rising temperatures, causing land underneath many villages to subside and softening the soil on riverbanks like the mighty Yukon River.
Mountain snow and ice melt rapidly, causing a short period when water levels in the rivers rise and move rapidly.   The high, fast flowing water serves to wash away an unprecedented amount of riverbanks in villages.
The vast amount of soil taken into the river causes riverbeds to rise as eroded soil accumulates on the bottom.
River depths decrease to the point where many areas are so shallow that more and more salmon that are caught in subsistence fishing have lesions, cuts, and scrapes as they struggle to get through very shallow parts of the river.
The low levels that remain for the rest of the summer mean the water is warmer than in the past, causing further stress to the fish during the breeding season.
It may come to the stage that salmon numbers will dramatically decrease within the foreseeable future.   This in turn will affect the food available for bears, land otters, eagles and people.
Less salmon carcasses taken inland and left near the rivers will decrease the fertility of land, water, and vegetation.   Most "mainlanders" do not understand that we are talking about millions and millions of salmon taken by wildlife every year in Alaska, so the loss of salmon will have significant ecological impacts to land, water, wildlife and vegetation.
Polar bear (Image: SPL)

What happens in Alaska will affect all other places of the world as a cascading effect
What happens in Alaska will affect all other places of the world as a cascading effect
(Image: SPL)
Behaviour change
Significantly, diminished salmon numbers will lead to predators uncharacteristically concentrating on other prey, perhaps creating an imbalance and threatening the viability of the prey.
One can only imagine what decreased and changing vegetation will do to the land-based food chains.
All of this will have a profound impact on the viability of indigenous cultures throughout the North, and further afield.   Everything is connected in nature; what happens in Alaska will affect all other places of the world as a cascading effect, as scientists call it, will occur.
Alaska Native Elders say we must prepare to adapt.   This is a simple instruction but it is not so easy to understand what it really means.
Adapting means more than adjusting hunting technologies and what kind of food we eat.   It means re-learning how to garner information from a rapidly changing environment.   Even science is recognising the value of ancestral knowledge passed on to later generations of natives.
There is a reason native people have been able to survive for centuries in the harshest of conditions, in the strangest of times; it is because of our resilience and our adaptability.
And it is that strength from within that our communities now have to rely upon as we face an uncertain future.
Patricia Cochran is executive director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, and chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council
The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Cold Bay Mountain Range

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

Image taken onboard ship from sea.

Photo: Alaska Image Library
Cold Bay Mountain Range
Image taken onboard ship
Photo: Alaska Image Library
Friday, 30 July, 2004
Sea engulfing Alaskan village
David Willis
By David Willis
BBC correspondent in Shishmaref, Alaska
Ariel view of village of Shishmaref, Alaska.

It is thought to be the most extreme example of global warming on the planet.

Some estimate that the sea moves inland three metres a year.
Some estimate that the sea moves inland three metres a year
It is thought to be the most extreme example of global warming on the planet.
The village of Shishmaref lies on a tiny island on the edge of the arctic circle — and it is literally being swallowed by the sea.
Houses the Eskimos have occupied for generations are now wilting and buckled.
Some have fallen into the sea.   Not only is the earth crumbling underfoot, but the waves are rising ominously all around.
As we walked across the narrow strip of beach that was his playground as a kid, village elder Tony Weyiouanna pointed to a series of barricades that have been erected over the years in the hope of stemming the tide.
"All of our efforts have been to protect our community," he told me.   Has it worked?   "Not yet."
Tony estimates the tide moves an average of 10 feet (three metres) closer to the land every year.   When he was growing up, it was roughly 300 feet (91 metres) from where it is now.
Women, Shishmaref

Locals are planning to relocate to the mainland
Locals are planning to relocate to the mainland
Rising sea-levels
Professor Gunter Weller, director of the University of Alaska's Center for Global Change and Arctic System Research, says several factors are at play in this part of the Arctic.
Because temperatures in Alaska have increased by as much as 4.4C over the last 30 years, glaciers are starting to melt, causing the sea levels to rise.
The increased temperature is also thawing the frozen ground, which is known as permafrost, on which the arctic communities such as Shishmaref were built.
It is this thawing that is causing the ground to crumble like sand.
Refugees
Professor Weller says there are many other villages in Alaska that are suffering similar problems, although not quite on the same scale.
"Shishmaref is an indication of what to expect in the future in other parts of the world," he told me.   "In that respect it is the canary in the coal mine."
The villagers here have now taken a difficult decision. Staying here indefinitely could put their lives in danger.
And so instead of fighting nature over land that has been theirs for generations, they have reluctantly concluded that preserving life is more important than preserving their lifestyle.
Soon this entire village will be relocating to the mainland — making the people of Shishmaref the first refugees of global warming.
Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center

Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center is your window to the largest seabird Refuge in the world – with all of the natural wonders of Kachemak Bay on the Kenai Peninsula right outside its doors.

From sea stars to sea lions, the 4.9 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge holds seabird colonies and an amazing diversity of life found in Alaska’s island and ocean habitats.

Photo: Steve Hillebrand/Alaska Image Library
Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.
ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Photo: Steve Hillebrand/Alaska Image Library

Lights Out
The Bush administration lets a profitable energy-efficiency program lapse
by Amanda Griscom
02 Oct 2003
As of yesterday, Oct. 1, the most successful program in U.S. history for improving energy efficiency in federal buildings is toast.
The demise of the Energy Savings Performance Contracting program is no insignificant matter, seeing as how the federal government is the single biggest energy-user in the nation.
Taxpayers spend $4 billion per year to power 500,000 federal buildings nationwide, from science labs to military bases.
CFL
Sayonara to more CFLs?
The ESPC program grew out of the Energy Conservation Policy Act, which was enacted in 1992 by President Bush the First, whose intent was to allay problems that seem to run in the family: rising post-war budget deficits and vertiginous energy demands at a time of crisis in the Middle East.   The program was slow to take off, but President Clinton recognized its merits and issued an executive order in 1999 exhorting all federal agencies to participate, spurring dramatic energy cuts across the board -- and in particular at the Defense Department, which accounts for 80 percent of the federal government's energy use.
Since its inception, the program has drawn a whopping $1.5 billion in private-sector investments in efficiency measures in federal buildings.   The government itself doesn't put the money down for energy efficiency; private companies finance and maintain the improvements.   Energy consultant Jennifer Schafer, who represents Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Sempra, and other companies that implement efficiency measures at federal facilities, called the program "about as win-win as you can get."
Payback on the $1.5 billion in corporate investments is estimated to take about five years, with savings on federal energy bills amounting to roughly $300 million per year.   And since the efficiency measures last for about 20 years, the long-term savings could eventually total some $6 billion, according to Mark Hopkins, acting co-president of the Alliance to Save Energy.   That's four times the original investment -- quite enough to make any bottom-liner salivate.   The private companies split the savings with the feds, thereby saving taxpayers money while making a profit for themselves -- not to mention cutting down on the pollution and resource consumption associated with producing electricity.
"Letting this program lapse makes no sense at all.   It is simply a tragedy," said Schafer.   "There's not a soul we have talked to on the Hill or anywhere who says, 'God, that ESPC program really sucks.   What a drag it is to guarantee savings for the federal government.'   Everybody says, 'Wow! What a great program.'"
So what happened? It's not that the Bush administration is opposed to the ESPC program; it's just that the administration didn't fight for its survival before its expiration date.   As a pilot project, the original ESPC proposal included a sunset date one decade out from its start -- Oct. 1, 2003.   The Cheney energy plan does include a measure that would make the program permanent, but that plan has not passed Congress.
"If the White House had told Sen. [Pete] Domenici [R-N.M., chair of the Energy Committee] to move the ESPC provision forward on its own, it would have passed in a matter of hours," said Hopkins.   "But they're refusing to separate anything from the rest of the energy plan.   That way they can keep the pressure on to pass the whole enchilada."   In other words, those who support controversial provisions such as opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling don't want to section off the more popular measures in the Bush energy plan, like the ESPC program, because they can be used as incentives to fast-track the plan as a whole.
Bush's willingness to let this unequivocally triumphant program languish for the sake of a political gambit is particularly discouraging given that the very circumstances that led his father to institute ESPC are again intensifying.   We may be seeing repeat crises during Bush 41 and Bush 43, but we're not seeing repeat solutions.
They've Got Alaska Over a Barrel
Meanwhile, the current Bush administration is focused on a very different kind of solution to America's energy independence concerns: plundering every last oil-and-gas-filled crevice of the United States, no matter how iced-over, far-flung, or short-lived its supply may be.   Although Bush's Department of the Interior has had trouble weaseling its way into the Arctic Refuge, it has successfully steamrolled into less controversial but similarly remote, vast, and ecologically sensitive areas of the country.
Beaufort Sea
Between the devil and the Beaufort Sea.
Photo: NOAA.
On Sept. 24, amid the hubbub of Mike Leavitt's confirmation hearings, few journalists and policy makers stopped to notice that the DOI's Minerals Management Service put 9.4 million acres in Alaska's Beaufort Sea on the chopping block at unusually low royalty rates.   The area in question is not far from the Arctic Refuge, off the northern shore of Alaska -- land of polar bears, bowhead whales, and Inupiat Eskimos who still practice maritime hunts.
Within the first few days of the fire sale, energy companies, including ConocoPhillips and EnCana (a major Canadian oil and gas company), had already snatched up 75,000 acres of prime offshore drilling plots.   Estimates of commercially recoverable oil in the Beaufort Sea range from 4 billion to 12 billion barrels (compared to an estimated 3.2 billion in the Arctic Refuge), but the area features some of the world's most hostile conditions for exploration, making it pricey to drill.
There are, of course, likely environmental side effects: Last spring, a report by the National Academy of Sciences warned that seismic exploration and offshore drilling in the area would threaten endangered bowhead whales as well as the livelihoods of traditional Inupiat hunters.   Needless to say, that report was overlooked.
Although the Beaufort sale troubles many Alaskan wildlife experts, they say it's merely one of many concerns in the region, some of them potentially far more serious.   "This is just a small piece of a larger picture in which the federal government is essentially giving the resources of Alaska away for free," said Eleanor Huffines, Alaska regional director for the Wilderness Society.
Huffines says she is realistic about the need to expand drilling, and the Wilderness Society has identified areas in Prudhoe Bay and western Alaska where it is not opposing increased development.   "What concerns me is that no matter how reasonable we try to be in balancing commercial and environmental concerns, [the Bush administration's] plans show no balance at all -- no regard for the seven areas scientists have identified as biological hotspots, no respect for wildlife habitat, native traditions, water quality, or any non-commercial values."
Dirty Dealing on Clean Air?
John Graham
OMB's John Graham.
Photo: White House.

No agency within the Bush administration has a reputation for dismissing "non-commercial values" more doggedly than the Office of Management and Budget.   Last week, however, the agency and its director of Information and Regulatory Affairs, John Graham, enjoyed a sudden flow of accolades in the media for doing just the opposite, after releasing a study concluding that clean-air regulations have health benefits five to seven times greater than the costs they impose on industry and consumers.
The big news reported in major newspapers was that over the last decade, industry, states, and municipalities spent an estimated $23 billion to $26 billion on technologies to comply with clean-air standards, while society reaped gains of $120 billion to $193 billion during the same period (that is, money saved by reductions in emergency-room visits, premature deaths, and lost workdays as a result of improved air quality).
"The report provides the most comprehensive federal study ever of the cost and benefits of regulatory decision-making," wrote Eric Pianin in the Washington Post on Sept. 27.   "It has pleasantly surprised some environmentalists who doubted the Bush administration would champion the benefits of government regulations."
Strangely enough, however, it was industry representatives -- not environmentalists -- who tended to see the report as a pleasant surprise.   "Despite the relentless complaining about the OMB we've heard from environmentalists, [this report] is proof that Graham and the White House conduct balanced and unbiased analysis," said Scott Segal, an electricity industry lobbyist clearly still giddy from the newly weakened New Source Review rules he fought for, and unconcerned that Graham's findings would pose any practical threat to industry.   After all, it's one thing to admit that command-and-control regulations have yielded a great payoff for society; it's another to actually support more of those protections or vigorously enforce the ones already on the books.
Muck it up.
Indeed, more than a few environmentalists were less than happy about the findings: "Reporters picked up on a subplot of Graham's [243-page] report, but entirely missed the dominant theme," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch.   "The bulk of the report is far more troubling; it's about changing the rulemaking process to favor industry."   Bass says the report encourages loopholes that may further skew the results of mandatory cost-benefit analyses, the most egregious of which allows agencies to discount the lives of elderly people and those afflicted with diseases in evaluations of public-health regulations.
Wesley Warren, an economist at the Natural Resources Defense Council who worked at the OMB during the Clinton administration, sees a clear correlation between the loopholes and the findings on the benefits of federal air-quality regulations: "The [evaluation] of the air-pollution rules have been in the works for several years.   John Graham has seen this high-benefit conclusion coming and that's one of the main reasons why he's spent the last year trying to rig the game with loopholes -- so he could start ratcheting down benefit estimates in the future."
- - - - - - - - -
Grist columnist Amanda Griscom writes Muckraker and Powers That Be.  Her articles on energy, technology, and the environment have appeared in publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the New York Times Magazine.

Grist Magazine: Environmental news and commentary
A beacon in the smog SM
© 2003, Grist Magazine, Inc.   All rights reserved.
Amagat Island

Aleutians, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

From sea stars to sea lions, the 4.9 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge holds seabird colonies and an amazing diversity of life found in Alaska’s island and ocean habitats.

Photo: Alaska Image Library
Amagat Island
Aleutians, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Photo: Alaska Image Library
A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover.
Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.
Dr Serreze: "This will be four Septembers in a row that we've seen a downward trend.  The feeling is we are reaching a tipping point or threshold beyond which sea ice will not recover."
Professor Wadhams: "As the sea ice melts, and more of the sun's energy is absorbed by the exposed ocean, a positive feedback is created leading to the loss of yet more ice."
"If anything we may be underestimating the dangers.  The computer models may not take into account collaborative positive feedback."
"Sea ice keeps a cap on frigid water, keeping it cold and protecting it from heating up."
"Losing the sea ice of the Arctic is likely to have major repercussions for the climate."
"There could be dramatic changes to the climate of the northern region due to the creation of a vast expanse of open water where there was once effectively land."
"You're essentially changing land into ocean and the creation of a huge area of open ocean where there was once land will have a very big impact on other climate parameters."
                          To rebel is right, to disobey is a duty, to act is necessary !
twenty
twenty
         Alaska Meltdown — Wildlife Our Wilderness           
Tuesday 15th March 2005
Alaskan wildlife refuge must be saved
Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is again on the table in Congress, this time in the budget bill.
Human beings need wilderness and open space.
Some years ago, a friend teaching at a rural Michigan campus invited high schoolers from Detroit to study ecology.
At first, the students were frightened and hesitant but the woods slowly drew them out.
They found things, camped out, stalked deer, sat and gazed and grew.
Nature changed them as much as any classroom, and without speaking a word to them.
How many times must Americans say it?
Leave our wilderness alone!
The natural world sustains us all and not just with food and shelter.
We prove this when we "move out" to the suburbs, take vacations to national parks, and envision bubbling brooks when we are stressed out.
Our American "can do" independence results in large part from living in a country with rich open space. We reflect our land.
Places like the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge embody the heart of our land.
They are places from which we draw strength as a people and renew our national soul as well as our individual spirits.
We may never set foot on the great coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, but we are nonetheless enriched by its presence.
Oil companies contend that new techniques will not harm the habitat and wildlife of this fragile area. This is simply not true.
Estimates suggest the need for 50-60 gravel drill sites and waste pits; three production facilities; three sea water treatment plants; three airports; 280 miles of roads, 10-15 gravel excavation sites; 150 miles of pipelines; and two solid waste disposal dumps.
The list goes on, to say nothing of the inevitable toxic spills of oil and waste (Prudehoe Bay averages a spill a day).
Proponents of drilling argue that we need this oil for national security. Really?
The U.S. Geological Survey concluded that, if there is substantial oil in the Refuge (there’s only a 50-50 chance there is enough to justify extraction costs), the amount will feed our "oil appetite" for only six to nine months.
Oil executives have testified it will be seven to 10 years before the oil can be processed and made available. Will our national security needs wait?
And what are our national security needs? America uses about 25 percent of the world’s available oil but has only 3 percent of the known reserves.
Some people, such as U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., suggest that obtaining oil from the refuge will decrease our dependence on foreign oil.
Recently, he said, "Our dependence on oil from the Middle East represents a grave national security threat." He should consider that we presently import only 13 percent of our oil from OPEC nations; the rest comes from Canada, Venezuela and other non-Persian Gulf states.
If refuge oil represents only four-tenths of a percent of the world’s reserves, then it clearly will not decrease our dependence. The way to end our addiction to foreign oil is to end our addiction to oil.
Our petroleum-based economy is neither safe nor sustainable. It pollutes our air and water, pits us against other countries in the effort to obtain it and is a finite resource.
What to do?
Conserve.
So long as we use oil, we must conserve what is available and make it last longer by using it wisely.
For instance, upping vehicle mileage requirements by just 3 miles per gallon could save more than a 1 million barrels of oil per day.
That’s five times the amount the refuge is likely to yield. "Hybrid’’ vehicles already are here, with long waiting lines of buyers.
We should develop alternative sources of clean energy. There’s a common myth that developing clean energy is too expensive and would cost jobs, but the opposite is true.
The Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois estimates that implementing a plan to "Repower the Midwest" with sustainable energy (primarily biomass and wind energy) would result in more than 200,000 new jobs across the 10-state Midwest region by 2020, generate up to $5.5 billion in additional worker income, and up to $20 billion in increased economic activity.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center, with other regional experts, has developed a blueprint for achieving this goal.
Our world is changing. We must change because our lives and livelihoods depend on it. Sacrificing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for a few barrels of oil makes no sense.
It’s like sending treasure down with a sinking ship.
Energy policy requires statesmanship and forward thinking.
Hopefully, our elected officials are thoughtful people who will carefully consider the issues.
On this one, they should search their hearts (and take a look at where politics is heading).
They will see that preserving the Arctic Refuge (and other wilderness areas) and calling for cleaner, more dependable energy sources is the right (and politically astute) thing to do.
They will find themselves in camp with the rest of us who have faith in American ingenuity and determination.
We are willing to tackle these tough issues.
Are they?
Christine Fiordalis is chairperson of the Sierra Club Michiana Group, Hoosier Chapter, and lives in South Bend.

Let Congress know to keep Arctic Refuge drilling out of the budget
http://www.nrdcaction.org/
Wednesday, 29 December, 2004
Earth's permafrost starts to squelch
By Molly Bentley
in San Francisco
Svalbard drilling in permafrost (Cardiff University)
There is now an active programme of permafrost monitoring
In parts of Fairbanks, Alaska, houses and buildings lean at odd angles.
Some slump as if sliding downhill. Windows and doors inch closer and closer to the ground.
It is an architectural landscape that is becoming more familiar as the world's ice-rich permafrost gives way to thaw.
Water replaces ice and the ground subsides, taking the structures on top along with it.
Alaska is not the only region in a slump. The permafrost melt is accelerating throughout the world's cold regions, scientists reported at the recent Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union(AGU) in San Francisco.
In addition to northern Alaska, the permafrost zone includes most other Arctic land, such as northern Canada and much of Siberia, as well as the higher reaches of mountainous regions such as the Alps and Tibet. All report permafrost thaw.
"It's a very, very widespread problem," said Frederick Nelson, a geographer at the University of Delaware, US.
Scientists attribute the thaw to climate warming. As the air temperature warms, so does the frozen ground beneath it.
Data quest
Will the Arctic be a carbon sink, or convert to a carbon source? It's a big unknown
Frederick Nelson, University of Delaware
The observations reiterate the recent findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, which attributed the northernpolar region's summer sea-ice loss and permafrost thaw to dramatic warming over the past half-century.
Thawing permafrost can cause buildings and roads to droop, and pipelines to crack.
Natural features are also affected. Scientists reported an increased frequency in landslides in the soil-based permafrost of Canada, and an increased instability and slope failures in mountainous regions, such as the Alps, where ice is locked in bedrock.
With the exception of Russia and its long history of permafrost monitoring, global records are insufficient — often too brief or scattered — to determine the precise extent of ice loss, said Dr Nelson.
However, monitoring programmes that are now much larger in scope, such as the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTNP),indicate a warming trend throughout the permafrost zone.
Boreholes in Svalbard, Norway, for example, indicate that ground temperatures rose 0.4C over the past decade, four times faster than they did in the previous century, according to Charles Harris, a geologist at the University of Cardiff, UK, and a coordinator of Permafrost and Climate in Europe (Pace), which is contributing data to the GTNP.
"What took a century to be achieved in the 20th Century will be achieved in 25 years in the 21st Century, if this trend continues," he said.
"It's a very, very widespread problem," said Frederick Nelson, a geographer at the University of Delaware, US.
Scientists attribute the thaw to climate warming. As the air temperature warms, so does the frozen ground beneath it.

EARTH'S FROZEN GROUND
Permafrost is permanent year-round frozen ground
Soils many cm below surface never rise above 0C
Only top few cm thaw in summer — "active layer"
Many regions have been like this for 1,000s of years
Major thaw changes water distribution in ecosystem
Sequestered carbon released; buildings destabilised


Data quest
The observations reiterate the recent findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, which attributed the northernpolar region's summer sea-ice loss and permafrost thaw to dramatic warming over the past half-century.
Thawing permafrost can cause buildings and roads to droop, and pipelines to crack.
Natural features are also affected. Scientists reported an increased frequency in landslides in the soil-based permafrost of Canada, and an increased instability and slope failures in mountainous regions, such as the Alps, where ice is locked in bedrock.
With the exception of Russia and its long history of permafrost monitoring, global records are insufficient — often too brief or scattered — to determine the precise extent of ice loss, said Dr Nelson.
However, monitoring programmes that are now much larger in scope, such as the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTNP),indicate a warming trend throughout the permafrost zone.
Boreholes in Svalbard, Norway, for example, indicate that ground temperatures rose 0.4C over the past decade, four times faster than they did in the previous century, according to Charles Harris, a geologist at the University of Cardiff, UK, and a coordinator of Permafrost and Climate in Europe (Pace), which is contributing data to the GTNP.
"What took a century to be achieved in the 20th Century will be achieved in 25 years in the 21st Century, if this trend continues," he said.
Reindeer (BBC)
Degraded permafrost will impact the migration routes of some Arctic species
Slip and slide
In Ellesmere Island, Canada, a combination of warmer temperatures and sunny days has triggered an increasing frequency of detachment events, or landslides, over the past 25 years, compared with the previous 75, according to Antoni Lewkowicz, professor of geography at the University of Ottawa.
A detachment event occurs on a slope when the bottom of the active layer — the layer of thawing and freezing ground above permafrost — becomes slick with melted ice, causing it to slide off from the permafrost below.
But in this case, the amount of temperature increase is not so important as the rate of increase, Dr Lewkowicz found.
Meltwater from ice that warms slowly drains away. When ice warms quickly, water pools, creating a frictionless surface between the active layer and the permafrost. Like a stroll across a sloping icy sidewalk, a fall is almost certain.
"We have records from this particular site for about 10 or 12 years," said Dr Lewkowicz. "The years when active layer detachments have taken place have been times when we've had this rapid thaw down at the bottom of the active layer."
The slides may cut a wide swath hundreds of metres across, but extend only 50 or 60cm deep.
"They're almost skin-like landslides, moving across the permafrost," said Dr Harris.
The exposed permafrost, warmed by the air, now produces a new active layer.
Sink to source
In steep mountainous regions, permafrost thaw can lead to slope failure and rock falls.
In these areas, the permafrost ice is in hard rock. Where rocks are jointed, the ice serves as a kind of cement holding them together.
When it melts, the rock loses its strength and falls. Adramatic example of this occurred during the European heatwave of 2003 when a huge block of the Matterhorn broke off suddenly, leaving Alpine climbers stranded.
"It's not just the general warming trend we need to worry about," said Dr Harris, "but these extreme seasonal events as well."
Permafrost thaw damaged building (ACIA)
Building codes will have to change if the thaw continues
Dr Nelson says that with human-built structures, proper engineering and land use can mitigate permafrost loss.
Tingun Zhang, a researcher at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, reported at the AGU on the particular challenge slumping ground presents to the construction of the Qinghai-Xizang railroad across Tibet, perhaps the most ambitious permafrost-zone project since the Trans-Alaskan pipeline.
Nearly half the railroad will lie across permafrost, and temperatures in the region are expected to rise during this century.
Engineers are using a simple — and long established — trick of cooling the permafrost with crushed rock. Rocks minimise heatintake in summer and promote heat loss in winter.
It is the first time a large-scale project is using the crushed-rock method as its primary solution, according to Dr Zhang.
But not all outcomes of permafrost thaw have precedent, or an immediate solution. One considerable variable is the possible release into the air of organic carbon stored in the permafrost.
In the drier areas, most of the emissions would be in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). But in the wetter areas, it would be methane, a more effective greenhouse gas.
Scientists do not know exactly how much carbon is sequestered in the permafrost regions, but estimates show it could be up to a quarter of the sequestered carbon on Earth, 14% of it in the Arctic, alone.
"Will the Arctic be a carbon sink, or convert to a carbon source?" posed Dr Nelson. "It's a big unknown."
Planet Under Pressure

A six-part series looking at the biggest problems facing the Earth

Introducing Planet Under Pressure

PART 5: CLIMATE CHANGE

Entering uncharted waters?
Rising tides
Life in Bangladesh's low-lying Ganges delta.

PART 6: FIGHTING POLLUTION

Pollution: A life and death issue
Child on nebuliser in south DurbanFight for clean air
Durban poor take the pollution issue into their own hands
Photojournal: Living with pollution
Map: Pollution hotspots
Quiz: Are you pollution-savvy?

COMPETITION
Green and pleasant
Enter our contest — design an eco-friendly garden

FEATURES
ChimneyChanging Earth — In pictures: Your changing world
Readers' pictures of the effects of pollution and climate change

Your eco-friendly garden designs
"How I'd change the world..."

SECTIONS
Part 1: Species under threat
Part 2: World water crisis
Part 3: Soaring energy demand
Part 4: Can the planet feed us?
Part 5: Tackling climate change
Part 6: Facing climate change


RELATED BBC LINKS:
Global warming?
2015 — Where will we be?

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
AGU Fall Meeting 2004
Frederick Nelson
Permafrost and Climate in Europe Project
Arctic Council
UNEP — chemicals programme
World Health Organisation
European Chemical Industry Council
WWF — Toxic chemicals
Environmental Protection Agency
Unimak Island, Cape Sarichef

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

Photo: Alaska Image Library
Unimak Island, Cape Sarichef
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Photo: Alaska Image Library
 



Earth, a planet
hungry for peace

(IPC, 7/4/04)
The Israeli apartheid (land grab) wall
around Palestinian population centers.
The Israeli apartheid (security) wall around Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, like a Python (Alquds, 1/25/03.
Bush Accused of Blocking Arctic Report
Barbara Ferguson
Arab News 19 September 2004
NEW YORK — With a successive series of hurricanes ravaging the Caribbean and the southeast United States, US lawmakers and environmentalists met this week to examine if these climate changes are due, in part, to greenhouse-gas emissions.
Addressing a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on global warming, an Arctic native leader offered a passionate plea to the US government to aggressively combat climate change.
Inuit Circumpolar Conference Chairperson Sheila Watt-Cloutier said the native people are already suffering dramatic changes to their Arctic environment.
Watt-Cloutier, who represents the 160,000 Inuit in Greenland, Canada, Alaska and the Russian Federation, described the Inuit struggle as “a snapshot of what is happening to the planet.”
“We find ourselves at the very cusp of a defining event in the history of this planet,” Watt-Cloutier told the senators. “The Earth is literally melting.”
Several lawmakers on the committee insisted on immediate action after the Arctic leader told the panel that the Bush administration is trying to bury an international report that contains recommendations of the impact of global warning on the people of the Arctic.
She said State Department officials are blocking the release of one of two reports that were to be presented to government ministers from eight Arctic nations at a meeting Nov. 9 in Reykjavik, Iceland.
“We cannot afford to ignore an issue that is not static,” said committee chairman John McCain, R-Arizona.
“We need to take action that extends well beyond eloquent speeches and includes meaningful actions such as real reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases.”
Four years ago the US and other nations launched the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.
More than 300 international scientists participated in the study, the results are a scientific analysis and a report outlining policy recommendations.
The science report will still be presented, but the US has succeeded in blocking the release of the policy report at the meeting.
The other nations participating in the climate assessment — Canada, Russia, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden — want the policy recommendations released, but have been overruled by the United States,” she said.
The policy’s current draft form states the Arctic is susceptible to global warming and says there is a limit to how much the people there can adapt to the changing climate, Terry Fenge, a Canadian representative to the conference, told journalists.
Scientific models based on decades of data suggest that global warming will be especially intense in Polar Regions. “The Inuit are the mercury in the barometer,” Watt-Cloutier said. “We are the early warning system. You can take the pulse of the world in the Arctic.”
In her testimony, Watt-Cloutier outlined damages caused by global warming in Arctic regions.
In Alaska, where average winter temperatures have risen almost 10 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 30 years ago, melting sea ice and permafrost have contributed to coastal erosion at a rate of up to 100 feet yearly and have damaged houses, roads and airports.
She said approximately 20 other villages will need to be relocated to safer ground at a cost likely to exceed $100 million each.
Walrus and polar bears could be pushed to extinction by 2050 as sea ice shrinks, said Watt-Cloutier.
“When we can no longer hunt on the sea ice, and eat what we hunt, we will no longer exist as a people. We are not asking the world to take a backward economic step. All we are saying is that governments must develop their economies using appropriate technologies that significantly limit emissions of greenhouse gases. Short-term business interests won’t accede to this unless governments around the world require it.”
McCain, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, have already sponsored the Climate Stewardship Act, which would limit greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States.
It failed to pass in 2003, but McCain and Lieberman are pushing for another vote in 2004.
In the House, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Maryland, introduced a companion bill in March 2004.
St. George Island Bluff View

Pribilof Islands, Bering Sea

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

Photo: Vernon Byrd/Alaska Image Library
St. George Island Bluff View
Pribilof Islands, Bering Sea
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Photo: Vernon Byrd/Alaska Image Library
Scottish news direct from Scotland
        International
Climate change: The crack of doom?
RAYMOND HAINEY
ITS collapse was so violent that it was picked up by earthquake monitors 150 miles away — a thundering warning to the world that the Arctic was heating up faster than scientists had imagined.
A giant ice shelf, covering 41 square miles, had broken off from the Canadian mainland and floated off into the sea.
Yet for 16 months, experts were unaware that the Ayles ice shelf — just one of six remaining in the Canadian Arctic — had drifted off until a scientist began examining old satellite images.
A giant ice shelf, covering 41 square miles, had broken off from the Canadian mainland and floated off into the sea.

ITS collapse was so violent that it was picked up by earthquake monitors 150 miles away — a thundering warning to the world that the Arctic was heating up faster than scientists had imagined.

Photo: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/
Yesterday, scientists said the dramatic discovery capped a year of new studies, which have revealed that the world is heating up faster than had been thought.
From the slowing Gulf Stream, to the warmest British summer on record, to unusually warm water in the Caribbean, researchers have mapped our rapidly changing climate.
Scientists were yesterday still coming to terms with the importance of the Ayles ice shelf collapse.
"This is a dramatic and disturbing event," said Dr Warwick Vincent, an Arctic ice expert at Laval University in Quebec.
"It shows we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years. We are crossing climate thresholds and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead."
Dr Vincent added that he had never seen such a dramatic loss of sea ice, a chunk the size of the Hebridean island of Rum or 11,000 football pitches, in a decade's study of the Arctic.
He said: "It is consistent with climate change. We're not able to connect all the dots, but unusually warm temperatures definitely played a major role."
The Canadian view was backed by Dr Ian Moffatt, a Stirling University climate-change expert, who warned that the Earth appeared to be warming faster than had been thought.
Dr Moffatt called for a massive international effort to develop new, green energy sources before it was too late.
Dr Moffatt said that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had predicted an increase of one to five deg C over the next 50 to 100 years, but it was beginning to appear that temperature change was at the upper end of the IPCC predictions.
A giant ice shelf, covering 41 square miles, had broken off from the Canadian mainland and floated off into the sea.

ITS collapse was so violent that it was picked up by earthquake monitors 150 miles away — a thundering warning to the world that the Arctic was heating up faster than scientists had imagined.

Photo: http://www.commondreams.org/
"This ice loss is a serious problem, because it's indicating a bigger breakdown than was predicted," Dr Moffatt said.
But there are solutions, Dr Moffatt stressed: "The key feature is we start looking at alternative energy sources, rather than just talking about it."
Dr Moffatt said the cost of developing cleaner energy could be high, but not as high as once feared. And he warned: "If we don't pay these costs, it will cost us the Earth."
Extensive ice loss could also lead to the extinction of animals such as the polar bear, Dr Moffatt predicted.
And he said that global warming could plunge Scotland into a deep freeze, because huge amounts of fresh water trapped in ice could melt into the Atlantic and kill off the Gulf Stream, which passes past the UK and Ireland and keeps the land temperature up.
Dr Moffatt explained: "If we get a large quantity of ice going into the North Atlantic and it begins to melt, salinity is reduced, it cools the sea and turns off the great ocean currents.
"We could see Edinburgh, which is on the same latitude as Moscow, becoming very cold."
Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said the future of the planet looked bleak — but he pointed to rays of hope in 2006.
He said: "This year will go down as the year that the vast majority of people woke up to climate change. People are now seeing the reality of climate change."
THE HEAT IS ON AS ICE MELTS AND ISLANDS VANISH
GLOBAL problems attributed to climate change in 2006 include:
INDIA: Lohachara in the Bay of Bengal, submerged by rising sea levels, was the first inhabited island to be wiped out by global warming.
UK: Britain notched up its highest average temperature since records began in 1659.
EUROPE: The skiing industry in the Alps looks bleak after the warmest successive period for 500 years.
AFRICA: The Sahara desert continues to expand, turning farmland into sand and fuelling civil war in Darfur, Sudan.
US VIRGIN ISLANDS: The Caribbean island group lost nearly half the coral reefs in study sites.
GREENLAND: Glaciers are melting, with a 250 per cent loss of ice.
AUSTRALIA: The bushfire season is starting earlier and burning more fiercely.
©2006 Scotsman.com
St. Lazaria Island Southeast Alaska

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

Photo: Alaska Image Library
St. Lazaria Island Southeast Alaska
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Photo: Alaska Image Library
 
 
 
 
 
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