WASHINGTON - The scientific findings announced today by the Arctic Climate Impacts Assessment depict an Arctic already in crisis due to human-induced global warming with worldwide ramifications, according to World Wildlife Fund.
"Clearly, the assessment is signaling an urgent SOS for the Arctic, but the speed and extent of global warming's damage depends on us," said Katherine Silverthorne, director of WWF's U.S. Climate Change Program. "If we limit our emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide now by increasing energy efficiency and using clean energy technologies like wind and solar power, we can still help protect the Arctic and slow global warming."
The Arctic Climate Impacts Assessment, a commission involving 300 scientists and established by the governments of all the Arctic countries presented a comprehensive assessment of peer-reviewed science and first-hand observations from native communities that shows drastic changes in the Arctic are underway endangering communities, native cultures, and Arctic wildlife like polar bears.
"As the Arctic Climate Impacts Assessment attests, the scientific evidence shows that the Arctic is in crisis due to global warming," said Dr. Lara Hansen, chief scientist, WWF Climate Change Program. "Even a slight shift in temperature - bringing averages above freezing - can bring about dramatic and rapid changes in an ecosystem that is defined by being frozen with severe consequences for people and all wildlife adapted to the current Arctic ecosystem, including polar bears."
If current trends continue unabated, polar bears could become extinct by the end of this century. Polar bears hunt their primary prey on the sea ice during winter, storing the fat they will need when spring thaw forces them ashore to fast until the ice returns in autumn. But the annual sea ice is now melting earlier and forming later leaving polar bears with less time to hunt and more time on land where they must fast - a development which threatens their survival.
A warmer Arctic will also have negative impacts around the world, accelerating the pace of global warming, affecting migratory species that feed and breed in the Arctic, possibly slowing the ocean circulation that brings heat from the tropics to the poles - further disrupting global and regional climate, and contributing to sea level rise.
Glaciers, sea ice and tundra will melt, contributing to global sea level rise. By the end of the century, sea levels could rise by nearly one yard. A warmer Arctic will contribute up to 15 percent of this rise. If the Greenland ice sheet melts, sea level could rise by as much 25 feet. Today there are 17 million people living less than one meter above sea level in Bangladesh, while places like Florida and Louisiana in the United States, Bangkok, Calcutta, Dhaka and Manila are also at risk from sea level rise.
The impacts seen in the Arctic are dramatic examples of how global warming is beginning to impact our world.