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Posts Tagged ‘Arctic’

Canadian Arctic nearly loses entire ice shelf

Posted by Admin on October 1, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/canadian-arctic-nearly-loses-entire-ice-shelf-214311365.html

By CHARMAINE NORONHA – Associated Press | AP – 23 hrs ago

TORONTO (AP) — Two ice shelves that existed before Canada was settled by Europeans diminished significantly this summer, one nearly disappearing altogether, Canadian scientists say in new research.

The loss is important as a marker of global warming, returning the Canadian Arctic to conditions that date back thousands of years, scientists say. Floating icebergs that have broken free as a result pose a risk to offshore oil facilities and potentially to shipping lanes. The breaking apart of the ice shelves also reduces the environment that supports microbial life and changes the look of Canada’s coastline.

Luke Copland is an associate professor in the geography department at the University of Ottawa who co-authored the research. He said the Serson Ice Shelf shrank from 79.15 square miles (205 square kilometers) to two remnant sections three years ago, and was further diminished this past summer.

Copland said the shelf went from a 16-square-mile (42-square-kilometer) floating glacier tongue to 9.65 square miles (25 square kilometers), and the second section from 13.51 square miles (35 square kilometers) to 2 square miles (7 square kilometers), off Ellesmere Island‘s northern coastline.

This past summer, Ward Hunt Ice Shelf‘s central area disintegrated into drifting ice masses, leaving two separate ice shelves measuring 87.65 and 28.75 square miles (227 and 74 square kilometers) respectively, reduced from 131.7 square miles (340 square kilometers) the previous year.

“It has dramatically broken apart in two separate areas and there’s nothing in between now but water,” said Copland.

Copland said those two losses are significant, especially since the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf has always been the biggest, the farthest north and the one scientists thought might have been the most stable.

“Recent (ice shelf) loss has been very rapid, and goes hand-in-hand with the rapid sea ice decline we have seen in this decade and the increasing warmth and extensive melt in the Arctic regions,” said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, remarking on the research.

Copland, who uses satellite imagery and who has conducted field work in the Arctic every May for the past five years, said since the end of July, pieces equaling one and a half times the size of Manhattan Island have broken off. Co-researcher Derek Mueller, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s geography and environmental studies department, said the loss this past summer equals up to three billion tons. Copland said their findings have not yet been peer reviewed since the research is new, but a number of scientists contacted by The Associated Press reviewed the findings, agreeing the loss in volume of ice shelves is significant.

Scambos said the loss of the Arctic shelves is significant because they are old and their rapid loss underscores the severity of the warming trend scientists see now relative to past fluctuations such as the Medieval Warm Period or the warmer times in the pre-Current Era (B.C.).

Ice shelves, which began forming at least 4,500 years ago, are much thicker than sea ice, which is typically less than a few feet (meters) thick and survives up to several years.

Canada has the most extensive ice shelves in the Arctic along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island. These floating ice masses are typically 131 feet (40 meters) thick (equivalent to a 10-story building), but can be as much as 328 feet (100 meters) thick. They thickened over time via snow and sea ice accumulation, along with glacier inflow in certain places.

The northern coast of Ellesmere Island contains the last remaining ice shelves in Canada, with an estimated area of 217 square miles (563 square kilometers), Mueller said.

Between 1906 and 1982, there has been a 90 percent reduction in the areal extent of ice shelves along the entire coastline, according to data published by W.F. Vincent at Quebec’s Laval University. The former extensive “Ellesmere Island Ice Sheet” was reduced to six smaller, separate ice shelves: Serson, Petersen, Milne, Ayles, Ward Hunt and Markham. In 2005, the Ayles Ice Shelf whittled almost completely away, as did the Markham Ice Shelf in 2008 and the Serson this year.

“The impact is significant and yet only a piece of the ongoing and accelerating response to warming of the Arctic,” said Dr. Robert Bindschadler, emeritus scientist at the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Bindschadler said the loss is an indication of another threshold being passed, as well as the likely acceleration of buttressed glaciers able to flow faster into the ocean, which accelerates their contribution to global sea level.

Copland said mean winter temperatures have risen by about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade for the past five to six decades on northern Ellesmere Island.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects in paragraph 3 that Serson Ice Shelf shrank to two remant sections three years ago, not five years ago; and in paragraph 13 the size of the last remaining ice shelves in Canada. Minor style edits, For global distribution.)

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AP Interview: CG admiral asks for Arctic resources

Posted by Admin on October 19, 2010

ABOVE NORTHERN ALASKA – The ice-choked reaches of the northern Arctic Ocean aren’t widely perceived as an international shipping route. But global warming is bringing vast change, and Russia, for one, is making an aggressive push to establish top of the world sea lanes.

This year, a Russian ship carrying up to 90,000 metric tons of gas condensate sailed across the Arctic and through the Bering Strait to the Far East. Last year, a Russian ship went the other way, leaving from South Korea with industrial parts. Russia plans up to eight such trips next year, using oil-type tankers with reinforced hulls to break through the ice.

All of which calls for more U.S. Coast Guard facilities and equipment in the far north to secure U.S. claims and prepare for increased human activity, according to Rear Admiral Christopher C. Colvin, who is in charge of all Coast Guard operations in Alaska and surrounding waters.

“We have to have presence up there to protect our claims for the future, sovereignty claims, extended continental shelf claims,” Colvin told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview conducted aboard a C-130 on a lumbering flight to the Arctic Ocean.

The advent of Russian shipping across the Arctic is of particular concern to Alaska and the U.S. because “there’s one way in and out of the Arctic Ocean for over half the world, and that’s the Bering Strait,” Colvin said.

The 56-mile wide strait lies between northwestern Alaska and Siberia, separating the North American and Asian continents and connecting the Bering Sea to the Arctic Ocean.

“The Bering Strait will end up becoming a significant marine highway in the future, and we’re seeing it with Russia, the way they are promoting this maritime transportation route above Russia right now, today.”

Warming has facilitated such travel. The National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado reported last month that Arctic sea ice coverage was recorded at a summer low of 1.84 million square miles. It said sea ice melted to the third-lowest level since satellite monitoring began in 1979.

More open water is something Colvin’s veteran icebreaker captains confirm.

They’re also concerned about the state of their fleet.

The Coast Guard has three icebreakers, of which only one — the Healy — is operational. The two other icebreakers, the Polar Sea and the Polar Star — “are broken right now,” Colvin said. Both are docked in Seattle, with the Polar Sea expected back in service next June. The Polar Star isn’t expected back until 2013.

Help could be on the way. A bill that awaits President Obama’s signature would have the government conduct a 90-day review of the icebreaker fleet, looking at possibly renovating the current fleet and building new icebreakers.

Colvin said it’s imperative the Coast Guard has icebreakers operating in the Arctic, and not only to have a presence there to protect U.S. claims.

“We need to have U.S. vessels with U.S. scientists operating in the U.S. Arctic, conducting research,” he said.

Such research was the basis for last week’s flight to the Arctic Ocean, deploying two buoys to collect information from both ice floes and the open ocean. However, the buoys in the University of Washington project failed. The first was not deployed after a malfunction aboard the C-130, and the other did not transmit data after it was dropped out the back of the plane and fluttered to the open water via a parachute.

Icebreakers aren’t the only need for the Coast Guard. It also needs operations in northern Alaska since the closest base is in Kodiak, about 1,000 miles to the south.

“What I’d like to see someday is a hangar in Barrow,” he said of the nation’s northernmost city. It would have to be large enough to house a Coast Guard C-130 and perhaps H60 helicopters.

He bases that need on an incident in October 2008 when the Coast Guard flew one of the cargo planes to theNorth Pole. They had to stop on the way back in Barrow, and left the airplane outside overnight.

Arctic temperatures caused the seals on the propellers to freeze, forcing a four-day delay to fly mechanics to Barrow to change out all the seals.

“That just doesn’t work. We really need a structure that we can put our C-130s in to protect them when we come up here and operate,” he said.

Adventurers going to the opening Arctic are another reality for the Coast Guard. Two years ago, seven people went to the Arctic, including two people who had to be rescued while trying to kayak across the Bering Straight. This year, 18 thrillseekers ventured north. Future rescues are a certainty as more people venture to the Arctic.

“I’m sure people will say, ‘Why are we going to waste U.S. government money on a rescue?'” Colvin said. “But you know, that’s our responsibility, our requirements to rescue anybody that does get in distress.”

This month, Shell Oil said it has applied for one exploration well in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s north coast and will seek a permit for a second.

While Colvin said he is always concerned about a possible oil spill, he’s not as wary about oil exploratory operations in the summer months in open Arctic water.

“Open water, summer months, 24 hours of daylight, shallow water, that’s been done successfully throughout the world, I’m not particularly concerned about that,” he said.

“Where I become concerned is year-round production in the winter months up in the Arctic,” Colvin said, adding more science, research and information is needed before moving forward.

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