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A Canary
in the Cold

Warning Signs in the Arctic

In the old days, miners would carry canaries in cages down into the coal mines. The little birds were more sensitive than humans and if poisonous gas was present, the poor birds quickly died. This warned the miners to get out, before they too, were poisoned.

The Arctic and Antarctic (the poles) are the Earth's "canary" - sensitive warning spots to let us know of a greater oncoming danger. If the planet warms by about one degree on average, the poles will warm by about three degrees.

We can therefore see why it is very important to pay attention to what is happening in the Arctic. Here are some recent developments:

    Blomstrandbreen Glacier has retreated around two kilometres in the last 80 years (compare the photos).
    Click on photos for the full
    story from Greenpeace.
  • Greenpeace reports that the glaciers on the island Svalbard off the coast of northern Norway are rapidly disappearing. The glaciers in the Kongsfjorden area began an almost continuous retreat around 1900 (see photos at right).
  • Alaska's glaciers are melting twice as fast as they did 40 years ago and are responsible for about nine percent of the rise in global sea level.
  • Over the past 30 years, Alaska's average annual temperature has increased four times faster than the average global rise.
  • Ice covers about 15% less of the Arctic Ocean than it did 20 years ago.
  • In the 1950's, ice on the ice-cap averaged 10 ft. (3 meters) thick. Now it averages less than 6 ft. (1.8 meters) thick.
  • At the current rate of melting, the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free all summer long in about 50 years.
  • In the 1970's, a Russian biologist discovered 200 species of tiny organisms, algae and zooplankton that flourished on the ice floes, the bottoms of icebergs and in the open water. By 1970, most of them were gone.
As the ice disappears, the plankton also disappears. The creatures (fish) that depend on the plankton disappear, the creatures that depend on the fish (seals) disappear. Some animals depend on the ice for dens, and they disappear. Animals that depend on the ice for travel (bears and caribou) also disappear.

How are we going to stop such a chain of "disappearances"? What can we do?

"We are not helpless and there is nothing wrong with us except the strange belief that we are helpless and there is something wrong with us." - Donella Meadows

Environment, Glaciers, Icebergs, Map of the Arctic
"Arctic Environment Melts Before Our Eyes"
"Polar Bears and Three-Year-Olds on Thin Ice"

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