GW Dramatically Rearranging Arctic Landscape

By Stephen Leahy


A lone glacier drifts in the Canadian Arctic, Aug. 14, 2007.

Oct 4 (IPS) – The hot breath of global warming has now touched some of the coldest northern regions of world, turning the frozen landscape into mush as temperatures soar 15 degrees C. above normal.

Entire hillsides, sometimes more than a kilometre long, simply let go and slid like a vast green carpet into valleys and rivers on Melville Island in Canada’s northwest Arctic region of Nunavut this summer, says Scott Lamoureux of Queens University in Canada and leader of one the of International Polar Year projects.

“The entire landscape is on the move, it was very difficult to find any slopes that were unaltered,” said Lamoureux, who led a scientific expedition to the remote and uninhabited island.

The topography and ecology of Melville Island is rapidly being rearranged by climate change.

“Every day it looked different,” he told IPS. “This is a permanent change.”

Normally Melville Island’s 42,500 sq kms are locked in sea ice all year round, as it is part of the high region that has been relatively unaffected by the dramatic declines in Arctic sea ice over the past decade. Until this year, that is. This summer, southern parts of the island were free of sea ice, Lamoureux told IPS. He has led expeditions to the island every year since 2003.

On land at Mould Bay on the island’s northwest side, his research team measured record-shattering temperatures of between 15 to 22 degrees C in July. Until then, the normal July average temperature had been between 4 and 5 degrees C.

The extraordinary heat thawed the tundra permafrost — permanently frozen ground — to depths of more than a metre, he said. At that depth, there is mostly ice and when it melts, it destabilises the thin, top layer of plants and soil that has patiently built up over thousands of years.

Enormous amounts of water and sediments are being discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans. Studies are underway to determine the impact on birds, fish, musk oxen and other creatures that live there in the summer. Given the extent of the changes, there is little doubt there will be significant ecological impacts, he said.

The record low level of sea ice in the entire Arctic Ocean will also change regional and even global weather patterns. Much more snow will fall in the Arctic due to the increased moisture from the increased amounts of open water. All that water is also dark and heat-absorbing instead of sunlight-reflecting ice, so the region gets warmer, melting more ice in what is a strong positive feedback loop.

Other parts of the Arctic region have already changed dramatically in the past 50 years.

“There are trees and lawns in Nome (Alaska) now,” said Patricia Cochran, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

For complete article, please see Entire Landscapes on the Move

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