August 6, 2005

Scientists Study Arctic Climate Changes

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- A Reno scientist is among a team of researchers who will spend the next several weeks studying the icy Arctic Ocean to document historic climate changes.

Glenn Berger, a research professor at the Desert Research Institute, and others set off Friday aboard the Healy, a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker.

"There are more climate changes happening up there than anywhere else in the world," Berger said of the Arctic. "Models predict drastic changes up there by the middle of this century."

Berger said his role in the project will be to help determine the history of climate changes in the Arctic thousands of years ago by taking sediment cores from the bottom of the ocean.

"If we're seeing these warming trends now, we want to look to the past to see if anything like this has happened before," he said.

This is Berger's second trip this year to the Arctic Ocean. The $2.5 million research project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Bill Wiseman, program director for the NSF's Arctic Natural Sciences Program, said the expedition is using new technology to see whether variations in the Arctic's climate are within normal range of those that took place in Earth's recent past during the Holocene era, some 10,000 years since the last ice age.

"The fundamental concept is that the Arctic is undergoing some rather exceptional and rapid changes at the moment," Wiseman told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "We see this in the retreat of glaciers and sea ice.

"We're trying to understand what it is we're actually seeing," he said. "Is it global warming or is it not global warming? We'll determine if the situation is different than what has happened in the past, or if it falls within the range of climate variations."

Berger said there are indications - if not scientific evidence - of a warming trend.'

During the first expedition in June, Berger said a biologist told him that puffins had moved from their lower-latitude habitat to the colder regions of Barrow, Alaska, and were displacing Arctic birds. Then last year, the first shark was sighted in the waters southwest of Barrow.

"A native who lives in one of the villages outside of Barrow told me he saw a shark while they were hunting beluga whales," Berger said. "I thought that was astounding. So the waters are warming."

This leg of the research expedition, which is set to wrap up Sept. 30, is being conducted in cooperation with the Swedish icebreaker and research vessel Oden, making it the largest geological expedition to the central Arctic Ocean in 20 years.


Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com