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Climate Change in the Arctic & around the globe

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From Barrow to Barcelona

The Ice Blog hasn’t been updated for a few days, but only because of technical problems, not a lack of stories, I could have been writing non-stop.
It will take a while to catch up, but I have to start with sharing my “small world” story with you.
I was on the plane (sorry, yes, but for a greater cause…) to Barcelona for the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

(I know this is a boat, not a plane, but it is all related. Bear with me – and see below):

(This is the TARA, a famous Arctic research vessel, far from the Arctic, but still in the service of publicising global warming, open to the public at the IUCN congress in Barcelona).

Meanwhile, back on that plane: I got talking to my neighbour from the USA, who was also heading for the event. He turned out to be Gary Braasch, a nature photographer who is now dedicating almost his entire work to photographically documenting and publishing climate change.
The climate photographer’s global warming website
He told me how he became so concerned about global warming back in the 1990s that he decided to start working on that theme – and has never stopped since.
He got his latest book out of his bag to let me have a look.
Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World (University of California Press).
I am trying to acquire a copy. The photos are great – and the information, as far as I can judge from a skim on the way to Barcelona – is thorough but readable.
“Oh, the inevitable polar bear”, I said.
“I’ve got much more beautiful pics of polar bears” – says Gary.
“But they’ll be on ice, this one’s on land, because his seea ice is melting away” – says IQ.
“Exactly”, says Gary, evidently pleased to be sitting beside a kindred spirit.
His picture reminded me of a segment from an interview I had just been editing, with the ornithologist and indirect climate change monitor George Divoky.
George Divoky and Friends of Cooper Island
George told me in the interview that the sea ice was on the retreat, the permafrost of his island was melting and his campsite was being visited too frequently by polar bears who wouldn’t have touched it with a bear-claw before.
I told Gary the story.
“That’s George’s camp” – he said. “That’s where I took that picture – and we had to call search and rescue because of the bear”.
A small planet indeed.


This is some of the flotilla of sailing boats that brought committed conservationists to Barcelona in Spain for the IUCN congress. Not a bad idea. It drew loads of spectators down to the port for the “Sailing to Barcelona” parade and boat village, where they could visit the research boats and find out about scientific research.
My colleague Nina Haase and I were guests on board the “Garlaban”, which is chartered for marine research by the “Institut Océanographique Paul Ricard”. Thanks again to the Institute’s President Patricia Ricard our skipper “Jacqui” for letting us be on the boat and record interviews with the scientists and crew for our report on “Sailing to Barcelona” for the environment.
All about the marine research of the institute

Date

October 13, 2008 | 2:46 pm

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Baked Alaska Online!

My “Flash Gallery”, with Alaskan photos and information, is now online.
Baked Alaska Flash Gallery
And Deutsche Welle is currently broadcasting the first installment of the “Climate Change College in Alaska” radio feature series. You can listen online or subscribe to the podcast.
Alaskan Climate Change Series on LIVING PLANET

Date

June 5, 2008 | 7:58 am

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Alaska baking faster?



This was us in Barrow just two weeks ago.
This morning, this email reached me from George Divoky, our ornithologist friend, observing climate change as part of his work monitoring a black guillemot colony on the Arctic’s Cooper Island:

“Was able to follow your travels via the B&J website and your blog and it looked like you were able to see some impressive examples of climate change in Alaska.
I was impressed with both the quality of climate change ambassadors and the media traveling with them. I tend to be skeptical of much of what is said and done to bring climate change issues to the public but found this exercise to be a good one and was glad I could become involved.
(…) I head off to Alaska in a week and Cooper Island about a week after that. After the late and snowy spring (which you know about first hand) things have gotten very hot there (5 C as I write this) and the snow all melted in the past two days.
Best,
George”

George J. Divoky
Friends of Cooper Island

Date

May 26, 2008 | 8:02 am

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Cool Forecasts – a Hot Topic?


They have no doubt that the planet is warming: Arctic explorers Marc Cornelissen,head of the Climate Change College, and archaeologist Anne Jensen, who rescues historic burial sites from being washed into the sea as a result of coastal erosion. (The sea ice is a natural protection barrier. As it diminishes, the land is left more vulnerable to the elements). I took the photo at Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the USA and well into the Arctic Circle.

People here in Germany are talking about a new study published in the journal Nature last week suggesting a possible lull in man-made global warming. (More in the “eco-news” bulletin which Nina Haase wrote for this week’s Living Planet programme):

This week’s “Eco-News” by Nina Haase

Scientists and politicians are worried that this might make people think they don’t have to rush to take action after all. The study doesn’t dispute the human role in global warming, but it predicts a cooling down from recent average temperatures between now and 2015, as a result of a natural and temporary shift in ocean currents. Now, experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are worried that people might become relaxed again about reducing emissions. There’s no doubt about the fact that people are more likely to take action if they see clear evidence of climate change and are worried about droughts and floods.
(Ines, I thought of you this morning when I read in the paper that Barcelona is relying on tankers bringing in drinking water.)
I was on a panel at an event here in Bonn today where some of the journalists – discussing the role of the media in reporting on climate change – said doubt had been cast on the methods used in the “cooling” report anyway.
In the hope that it might convince some more undecided readers of this blog (I realize of course I could be preaching to the converted with this), I’d suggest a listen to George Divoky, a dedicated ornithologist working on Cooper Island, in the Beaufort Sea north of the Arctic town of Barrow. George has been observing guillemots for 33 years and has quite clearly seen the evidence of climate change. The interview is attached for your listening pleasure. It’s also featured in our Living Planet programme this week.


This shows climate ambassador Cara, talking to a young eskimo,Kayan, who told us he is very concerned about the warming climate and the changes to the sea ice on which the eskimo culture depends so much. Cara is also on this week’s Living Planet programme.

Trying to look at ancient burial sites at Point Barrow. This shows typical everyday working conditions for scientists and other experts trying to keep track of coastal erosion and the ancient sites in danger of disappearin there.

Date

May 14, 2008 | 4:13 pm

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A Hardy Species: Arctic Scientists


Now I know what it feels like to be a scientist in the Arctic, out on the sea ice in a biting wind. As German sea-ice researcher Chris Petrich, puts it, “it’s really cool”.
If you’re like him, a northern type, who doesn’t like getting too hot – perfect. From the observer’s point of view – you really need to have a calling to work outside in these conditions. To quote one of the students: “I’d go mental if I had to do this in these temperatures all the time”.

Chris was undoubtedly the hero of the day. He works at Fairbanks Uni and comes up to Barrow at least once a month to monitor the development of the sea ice and the snow covering it. Current climate change models have various problem areas – one of them is the “albedo effect”. Snow reflects heat back up away from the earth. Melting snow leaves darkish puddles, which absorb the heat, thus exacerbating the warming further. But it’s a complex phenomenon to calculate. And there’s a need for more data.
Today, the climate ambassadors were detailed to help Chris with his measurements, drilling holes into the snow (with hand drills, great for keeping warm) and measuring the depth. “Full Arctic gear” was required, “take what you think you need and add an extra layer” was Chris’ advice. I was comfortable with five, almost full-face balaclava and the parka hood. Once my sunglasses had frozen over, I knew why they provided us with snow goggles.

We headed off at one, with Erika, one of the CC students who studied in the US, driving us in the BASC (Barrow Arctic Science Centre) van to the “end of the road“. (They’re a versatile bunch.)The trouble was, it was hard to tell whether the road had ended or not, since it’s all covered in snow anyway. Then we changed into the preferred mode of transport out across the snowy desert that is the frozen Arctic: snow machines, or skidoos, towing long wooden sledges, two on the “doo”, the rest sitting as flat as possible on the sledge. We had 3 armed eskimo “bear guides” with us, keeping watch throughout, as polar bears are common here. Chris has encountered them several times – close encounters fortunately of the brief and “mostly harmless” kind. At the moment, my guide tells me, they’re more likely to be further out, finishing off the carcasses of two recently “harvested” bowhead whales.

Chris was happy to be able to measure on a windy day to compare with yesterday, when the weather was calmer. So at least one person was happy about the wind-chill factor. The measurements took around four hours. The “trainee scientists” worked hard and successfully handed in their measurements. “Spread the word about climate change and the importance of polar research” were Chris’s parting words. That’s our mission Chris, and thanks for an exciting and informative day on the ice.
Great website with animated charts of sea ice – and the daily measurements
And another one on combining Inupiaq and western ice science:Barrow Ice Trails
Simon sent in a question about the insulation of houses, which I’d just like to touch on before I close.
Iglu is an eskimo word for dwelling, not necessarily the ice-house we tend to think of. Traditionally, people built to keep the cold out. I’ve talked to one of our bear guides and he tells me they have thick walls and thick roof insulation – but still need a lot of heat in the winter.

Date

May 2, 2008 | 8:19 am

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