September 10, 2009

Study: The arctic is rapidly changing

U.S.-led scientists conducting an ecosystem study of arctic warming say they've determined the arctic, as we know it, might soon be a thing of the past.

The international team, led by Penn State University Associate Professor Eric Post, carried out studies of the biological response to arctic warming during the fourth International Polar Year that ended in 2008 and documented a wide range of responses by plants, birds, animals, insects and humans living in the region.

Post said his team determined the increase in mean annual surface temperature in the arctic during the last 150 years has had dramatic effects. For example, polar bears and ringed seals, both of which give birth in lairs or caves under the snow, lose many newborn pups when the lairs collapse in unusually early spring rains. The scientists said those species might be headed for extinction.

Post said, It seems no matter where you look -- on the ground, in the air or in the water -- we're seeing signs of rapid change.

He said the findings show the effects of arctic warming have been dramatic so far, especially since the warming amounts to only about 1-degree Celsius during the last 150 years. Post said it is difficult to predict what will happen with the 6-degree warming anticipated in the next 100 years.

The study, which appears in the journal Science, included researchers from Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Greenland, Norway, Scotland, Sweden and the United States.