April 29, 2009

Gore Warns Of Consequences To Rapid Arctic Ice Melt

Former Vice President Al Gore called for fast action to avert the potentially irreversible melting of the Earth's ice.

Speaking at the first conference to exclusive discuss the planet's melting ice, the Nobel prize winning climate champion warned that the situation is worse than previous worst-case scenarios projected by experts just a few years ago.

The Tromsoe, Norway, conference comes just months ahead of a U.N. climate summit set for December in Copenhagen.

"This conference is a global wake-up call," said Gore.

"The scientific evidence for action in Copenhagen in December is continuing to build up week by week."

"Ice is important through the ecological system of the Earth for many reasons, but one of them has to do with its reflexivity," he said, explaining why the melting ice was such a threat.

Ice reflects 90 percent of the sun's radiation back into the atmosphere.  Once the ice melts, the dark water underneath would absorb, rather than reflect, the heat -- accentuating the effect of global warming.

"As it disappears we have to keep in mind that it can come back only if we act fairly quickly," an AFP report quoted Gore as saying.

"If we keep turning the temperature of the Earth up, then the heat will go to lower depths of the Arctic Ocean and it will be impossible for the ice to come back," said Gore, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In September 2007, the Arctic ice cap measured its smallest size ever, at just 1.59 million square miles.  Since the ice is also thinner, it is more susceptible to swift melting.

Melting ice in Greenland and the Antarctic will also have significant consequences, said Gore.  For instance, for each 3.3-foot rise of water levels, 100 million people will become climate refugees, he warned.

Meanwhile, melting snow in the Himalayan mountain range, sometimes called the "third pole", will spur flooding, followed by droughts, for the 40 percent of the Earth's population that relies upon that water for survival, Gore said.

Scientists at the Tromsoe conference spoke of an ominous future, with the scope and rapidity of global warming exceeding the worst-case scenario projections.

"We are in trouble," wrote Robert Correll, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, in a 2004 report that highlighted the effects of climate change on the region.

With Arctic temperatures climbing twice as fast as in the rest of the world, initiatives to counter global warming will only reduce carbon emissions by a third of what is necessary, Correll said.

Without further action, the Earth's temperature will rise by 4.5 degrees by the end of the century, he added.

Experts have cautioned that a 2 percent rise is the upper limit on what the planet can tolerate.

If Correll's forecast proves correct, sea levels would rise by one meter.

In addition to calling for long-term measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Correll urged delegates to embrace initiatives to rapidly slow the ice melt, including reducing pollutants such as soot.

Soot and other particles released by diesel motors and fires in Asia and Eastern Europe are carried by wind to the Arctic, covering the region in a thin sheet that increases the ice's absorption of solar rays and hastens the ice melt.

"Since they have such short lifetimes, from a few days for black carbon to a decade for methane, reductions in these pollutants would show an early climate response," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told the AFP.

"It might give regions of ice and snow a chance to survive long enough for greenhouse gas reductions to have an impact."

After the conference concludes, a working group will draft a report to increase awareness about the issue of melting ice ahead of the Copenhagen summit in December.


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