WASHINGTON (AP) — Scientists say changes in the
Earth’s climate from human influences are occurring
particularly intensely in the Arctic region, evidenced by
widespread melting of glaciers, thinning sea ice and rising
permafrost temperatures.

A study released yesterday said the annual average amount of sea
ice in the Arctic has decreased about 8 percent in the past 30
years, resulting in the loss of 386,100 square miles of sea ice
— an area bigger than Texas and Arizona combined.

“The polar regions are essentially the Earth’s air
conditioner,” Michael McCracken, president of the
International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences,
told a news conference Monday. “Imagine the Earth having a
less efficient air conditioner.”

Susan Joy Hassol, the report’s lead author, said the
Arctic probably would warm twice as much as the Earth. A region of
extreme light and temperature changes, the Arctic’s surfaces
of ice, ocean water, vegetation and soil are important in
reflecting the sun’s heat.

Pointing to the report as a clear signal that global warming is
real, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) said
the “dire consequences” of warming in the Arctic
underscore the need for their proposal to require U.S. cuts in
emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse
gases. President Bush has rejected that approach.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on
Environmental Quality, said the Bush administration is spending $10
billion yearly on research into climate change and related issues.
“The president’s strategy on climate change is quite
detailed,” he said.

In the past 50 years, average yearly temperatures in Alaska and
Siberia rose about 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and winters in
Alaska and western Canada warmed an average of 5 to 7 degrees
Fahrenheit.

With “some of the most rapid and severe climate change on
Earth,” the Arctic region’s melting contributed to sea
levels rising globally by an average of about three inches in the
past 20 years, the report said. Sea levels globally already are
expected to rise between another four inches to three feet or more
this century.

“These changes in the Arctic provide an early indication
of the environmental and societal significance of global
warming,” says the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a
four-year study by 300 scientists in eight Arctic-bordering
nations, including the United States.

This most comprehensive study of Arctic warming to date adds yet
more impetus to the projections by many of the world’s
climate scientists that there will be a steady rise in global
temperature as the result of greenhouse gases released into the
atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and other sources.

It is based on ice core samples and other evidence of climate
conditions such as on-the-ground and satellite measurements of
surface air temperatures. Nations participating in the study
besides the United States are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland,
Norway, Russia and Sweden.

“The bottom line is that the Arctic is warming now, much
more rapidly than the rest of the globe, and it’s impacting
people directly,” said Robert Corell, chairman of the
scientists’ study panel and a senior fellow with the American
Meteorological Society.

The process is only likely to accelerate in the Arctic, a region
that provides important resources such as oil, gas and fish, the
study finds.

That would wreak havoc on polar bears, ice-dependent seals,
caribou and reindeer herds — and local people such as Inuit
whose main food source comes from hunting those animals. Some
endangered migratory birds are projected to lose more than half
their breeding areas.

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