By KATHERINE HARDING
Thursday, September 29, 2005 Posted at 4:41 AM EDT
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Edmonton — Andy Carpenter has only to walk out his front door to see that the Arctic's thick blanket of snow and ice is melting, drip by drip.
"It's impossible not to notice this," said the mayor of Sachs Harbour, a remote hamlet of 120 on the shore of Banks Island in Canada's Western Arctic. "What worries me is that people are starting to get used to it."
An alarming study released yesterday shows that the rapid decline of the floating ice cap covering the Arctic Ocean is showing no signs of reversing.
The U.S.-based National Snow and Ice Data Center presented data showing that the dramatic decay has continued for the fourth consecutive year, with 2005 being a record year for sea-ice shrinkage.
The researchers, who used satellite images and were assisted by NASA and the University of Washington, also predicted that if the current rates of decline in sea ice continue, the summertime Arctic could be ice-free before the end of this century.
A thawed Arctic region would have massive implications for Canada's economy and sovereignty claims.
Mark Serreze, a researcher at the Colorado-based centre, said it's been so warm in the region this year that the legendary Northwest Passage was largely open during the summer.
"It's certainly a rare event. . . . It's becoming easier to get through," he said. "Could this become one of the positive impacts of global warming? It all depends on your perspective."
In recent years, some have predicted that the treacherous waterway, which is normally clogged with ice, could become the much sought-after shortened trade link between Europe and Asia.
Mr. Serreze said he is worried that the decline of sea ice can never be reversed.
He said that historically, the ice cap recuperates during the winter, but that isn't happening any more.
Instead, because large, dark sections of the Arctic Ocean are exposed, the energy from the sun is being sucked into its waters instead of being bounced back into space by the ice cap.
"That is warming the water up," Mr. Serreze explained.
The centre's study concluded that human-induced global warming is at least partly to blame.
"It's still a controversial issue . . . but we've got to be considering greenhouse gases as part of this whole event," Mr. Serreze said.
Many scientists argue that the Arctic is widely considered a regulator of climate around the world. When its weather shifts dramatically, changes elsewhere are bound to take place.
Last year, a landmark environmental study by the Arctic Council, which is made up of representatives from several northern countries, found that temperatures in the Canadian Arctic have risen by three to four degrees over the past 50 years.
It also announced that sea-ice cover has declined 10 per cent over the past 30 years.
Federal Environment Minister Stéphane Dion told reporters in Ottawa that the mounting research about the melting ice cap is a "terrible concern."
He said it could raise water levels in the world's oceans, causing massive problems for countries such as Bangladesh.
He expects the topic to be discussed at a United Nations climate-change conference in Montreal this fall.
Mr. Carpenter, who was born and raised in Sachs Harbour, just hopes the "the rest of the world finally wakes up to what's going on."
As a boy during the 1950s, the large harbour in front of his home used to freeze up every September.
"You used to have to break the ice just to get in," he said. "Now it's just open water until winter hits.
"It's been gradual, but our world is definitely changing," he added.
Lately, all I've been seeing in the media related to this story are articles with titles like "Melting ice revives polar dreams" and "The Golden Age of Northern shipping routes". I can't fathom how people can't see alarm in this prospect. So shortsighted and money-grubbing. The Arctic sea ice is a major climate moderator for the entire globe, and has existed in some form or other for ONE MILLION YEARS. Once it is gone, as predicted, the heat absorption in the Arctic Ocean will throw things topsy-turvy all over the globe. 10% of it has disappeared in THIRTY YEARS. It may already be affecting weather patterns and be partially responsible for the crazy weather we've had this year. If we are able to survive the post oil age, then this phenomenon will certainly finish off whoever is left.