SciTech

ACIA Report predicts future of the Arctic

The world?s top environmental scientists gathered in Reykjavik, Iceland, last week for the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) International Scientific Symposium on Climate Change in the Arctic. The official ACIA report was publicly released on the symposium?s opening day, offering a series of grim predictions for the future of the Arctic. Chapters of the report covered the expected fate of the region?s climate, indigenous people, and wildlife over the next hundred years.
Since 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced three Assessment Reports on global effects that have served a solid background for the ACIA. The ACIA was created by the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) as a response to the IPCC Reports, based on the desire to offer in-depth attention to the Arctic.
Impacts of a Warming Arctic, the ACIA Overview Report released to the press last Monday, outlines what the organization believes to be the most important of its findings. ?These changes in the Arctic provide an early indication of the environmental and societal significance of global warming,? began the report. It continued with predictions that within a century, many significant changes will affect those living in the polar circle.
Temperatures worldwide are increasing at a surprising pace. The predictions suggest a magnification of this trend in the Arctic, with some areas seeing a further rise of three degrees Celsius within the next hundred years. According to the report, the warmth will cause glaciers to continue melting, spawning an increase in sea level ranging from four inches to three feet. Towns on the coast as far south as the Florida Keys will slowly lose land to the ocean.
Forests are expected to shift toward the tundra, a land which has traditionally been the site of most grazing and avian breeding. There will be a slight decline in the migratory bird population, and the number of caribou and reindeer will lessen due to lack of suitable grazing land. The sea ice on which seals and polar bears live and hunt will continue to recede, driving herds farther north. Other native species are expected to see a change in distribution, and a number of them might face endangerment or possible extinction.
After the initial barrier of altered movement is dealt with, some Arctic areas will be able to benefit from the climate change. Northern fisheries will have increased production as a result of marine life movement, and there will be easier marine access to natural resources like oil and gas. Shipping during the summer will eventually become easier as more of the ice coverage turns to water. Warming will lead to more successful growing seasons due to the negation of some of the past cold-weather obstacles for crop production.
The report carries the prediction that humans living in the Arctic will be affected in most aspects of everyday life. These effects depend largely on the give-and-take of the positive and negative impacts of the climate change. One current problem is that permafrost, ground that is permanently frozen, is already becoming unstable. ?Right now, the permafrost is warming very rapidly. At the present point, in some places, it?s already thawing,? said Dr. Romanovsky, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Alaska and a contributor to the permafrost section of the report. Shifting permafrost can crack the foundations of buildings, threaten the stability of pipes, and fracture roads. ?It?s a slow but very steady process, and very difficult to stop it if it starts,? said Dr. Romanovsky.
In the past, IPCC Assessments and other independent reports have been presented to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and distributed to policymakers in various governments. Their results have been far-reaching, encouraging many countries to take up the Kyoto Protocol and work together to slow the progress of devastating climate change.
Many experts believe that the issue will inevitably fall into and end up in the hands of everyday citizens. ?Human activity now can reduce the rate of change to come in the future,? said Dr. Gordon McBean, a geography and political science professor at the University of Western Ontario who served as a contributing author to the report. According to Dr. McBean, apathy to climate change could be dangerous. ?What I have seen indicates that people want this problem to be solved, but they are often reluctant if it means that they personally have to make changes.?