Jul 14, 2008 03:31 PM | 4
It looks as though global warming will cut short a study of… global warming.
That’s what happens when your lab sits on a melting ice floe. Adrift on ice in the Arctic Ocean, 21 Russian scientists (and two dogs) will need an early rescue thanks to global warming. The ice chunk supporting North Pole-35—a project designed to study Arctic flora and fauna, environmental conditions and even geography—has dwindled from 3 square miles to just 0.7 square miles.
That's still 2 million square feet, but it brings the floe's edge too close to the expedition's huts and equipment for comfort. So instead of abandoning the floe in September, as planned, scientists will climb aboard a research vessel towed by the nuclear ice-breaker Arktika in coming days. Just when depends on ice conditions, of course.
North Pole-35 is the 35th time Russian scientists have floated across the Arctic since 1937. On previous missions, they’ve helped define Russia's claims to Arctic territory, including the rich oil deposits believed to lie beneath the northernmost ocean. The current expedition started in September 2007, and most last at least a year.
The early rescue is yet another sign that the Arctic sea ice is rapidly disappearing. It worries climate scientists because the impacts of the North Pole melting are unknown. They could include changes in the amount of rainfall and snow across the northern hemisphere. Still, it is of a piece with U.S. ice experts’ predictions that the Arctic could be ice-free as early as September of this year— a situation unknown in recorded human history—thanks to an early start to the melting season and a record retreat last year that left weaker ice in its wake. Russian scientists’ ability to go with the floe in future may be in doubt.
"The observed rates of change have far outstripped what we projected," senior research scientist Mark Serreze of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center told me last year. "We seem to melt a little more each summer."
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