Scientists overseeing International Polar Year (2007-2008) have welcomed the first part of the Fourth Assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), released 2 February.
Dr David Carlson, Director of the IPY International Programme Office says: “IPCC has made a strong and definitive statement about global climate change, a change which hits first and hardest at the poles.”
Recent observations of the polar regions in 2006 have prompted alarm from experts that ice melting rates could be exceeding even IPCC projections.
The latest measurements show that Arctic sea-ice masses last year nearly matched lows recorded in 2005 and that for the first time re-freezing delayed until late autumn.
Unexpected breakage and movement of large pieces of Arctic coastal ice have also been reported as well as significant and surprising warming of ocean surface waters entering the Arctic from the North Atlantic.
Detailed observations of unpredicted networks of lakes and connection channels under the Antarctic ice sheet, and evidence of recent fast flows in some of those channels, have been published in the past few months, as have recent observations of unexpected discharge and depletion rates of some Greenland glaciers.
Dr Carlson added: “These and other changes in physical and ecological systems of polar regions, all observed over the past two years indicate a region undergoing rapid change and in need of comprehensive attention.”
In its report, IPCC Working Group I said that sea ice is projected to shrink in both Arctic and Antarctic regions and that large areas of the Arctic Ocean could lose year-round ice cover by the end of the 21st century if human emissions reach the higher end of current estimates.
The extent of Arctic sea ice has already shrunk by about 2.7% per decade since 1978, with the summer minimum declining by about 7.4% per decade according to the report.
IPY is co-sponsored by WMO and the International Council for Science (ICSU) and will officially be launched in Paris on 1 March 2007.
Materials provided by Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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