NOAA: U.S. unprepared for changes in Arctic ice

Reply Tue 21 Jun, 2011 09:19 am
June 20, 2011
NOAA: U.S. unprepared for changes in Arctic ice
By Renee Schoof | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is being inundated with requests for weather and ice forecasts as well as navigation information about the Arctic, but isn't able to provide all of the information that the Coast Guard, industries and native Alaskans need, NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco said on Monday.

The NOAA chief, the commandant of the Coast Guard and the chief of naval operations spoke at a symposium about challenges ahead for the U.S. as summer Arctic sea ice declines, opening the Arctic to oil and gas extraction, fisheries, tourism and shipping.

Lubchenco, a marine ecologist, said her agency doesn't have nearly the same capacity for Arctic weather forecasting, oceanography and navigational charting that it has in other regions.

"It's a matter of insufficient observing, insufficient information to do the modeling and forecasting. So there's a huge disconnect between what is expected we will be able to deliver and what we are actually able to provide," she said.

Lubchenco said NOAA needs more funding for this work, despite current pressure to cut the federal budget.

As the ice retreats, the need for information will increase, she said. She cited needs for weather and sea ice forecasts for the Navy and Coast Guard, Alaska native communities, shipping companies and the fossil fuel industry, which wants permits for exploration in Arctic Alaska next year.

NOAA also needs better models to be able to show how the loss of sea ice and rising ocean temperatures will affect pollock, cod, salmon and crab, as well as other species such as ice seals and whales, she said.

The commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., said the Coast Guard doesn't have a base or the ships it would need to respond to a cruise ship in distress or an oil spill.

Towns in northern Alaska have hotel rooms for only a few dozen people. During last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico the Coast Guard needed rooms for 3,000 people. In all, the government sent in 30,000.

"How do you place people up in the Arctic in those conditions is just the start," Papp said. "Then it's pre-staging equipment. It's having facilities you can operate out of. And right now we have nothing."

Papp said new icebreakers would be expensive to build and operate, but the U.S. nonetheless needs them.

The country's two heavy icebreakers, Polar Star and Polar Sea, are both out of service. The Polar Star is being decommissioned, and the 30-year-old Polar Sea is being refurbished. It's expected to return to service in 2013. Another icebreaker, the Coast Guard cutter Healy, is now on an Arctic research mission.

Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of national operations, said the Navy sees its role expanding as it includes the Arctic in its mission. He noted that 22 percent of oil and gas reserves are thought to be in the Arctic. In addition, new northern shipping routes are expected to open in about 25 years, he said.

Lubchenco cautioned that the environmental changes in the Arctic are happening faster than elsewhere and faster than ever observed in history.

NOAA has a responsibility to conduct scientific research that helps make "good stewardship decisions," she said.

"We have relatively little understanding of the true vulnerabilities of most Arctic ecosystems to the kinds of changes that are under way now," she said. "And there's a very urgent need to acquire additional information to be making better decisions." She added that development decisions should be made cautiously, "because of the potential for either irreversible changes or changes that would take a long, long time to undo."

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/06/20/116159/noaa-us-unprepared-for-changes.html#ixzz1PvMA3JTY
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Reply Tue 21 Jun, 2011 10:50 am
I wouldnt stress out on this. It appears that declines in sunspots may usher in a new "Weenie Ice AGe". Polar bears wont have to run amok in N Canada any longer eating pet dogs and livestock
Reply Tue 21 Jun, 2011 10:59 am
Should we try to up our carbon footprints a bit to stave off the coming ice age? I could make some of the many recipes for pizza or bread in the NY Times cookbook that instructs me to preheat my oven at 500 degrees for one hour.

I feel I need to do my part.
Reply Tue 21 Jun, 2011 10:59 am
Should we be concerned about competition to claim ownership of land to explore for valuable resources in the arctic? Will we have new resource wars? Is space next?

Reply Tue 21 Jun, 2011 02:02 pm
Its getting a might chilly here in Dutch Country. JAck at bad boy up.
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Reply Tue 21 Jun, 2011 02:04 pm
I think that you can see that the several countries have already divvied up the ARctic Ocean Basin, with Denmark being a big player.

Ice doesnt have much to do with the claims cause the sub basin is where the minerals are, not the ice.
Reply Wed 12 Sep, 2012 09:17 am
'Astonishing' Arctic Ice Melt Sets New Record
by Richard Harris - NPR All Things Considered
September 11, 2012

Arctic sea ice has melted dramatically this summer, smashing the previous record. The Arctic has warmed dramatically compared with the rest of the planet, and scientists say that's what's driving this loss of ice.

To be sure, ice on the Arctic Ocean always melts in the summer. Historically, about half of it is gone by mid-September. But this year, three-fourths of the ice has melted away, setting a dramatic new benchmark.

"It didn't just touch the record, it really drove right through it," says Ted Scambos at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, at the University of Colorado. He says the previous record was set in 2007. This year, the additional area that melted is the size of Texas. And the melt season may have a few days to go.

Direct satellite measurements of the sea ice started in the late 1970s, but there's indirect evidence that this decline is a dramatic departure from a much longer period of time.

"I would say it's been a few thousand years since we've seen the Arctic this open," Scambos says.

The Arctic ice has been in decline for several decades now. Weather conditions in the Arctic this summer were a bit out of the ordinary, but nothing dramatic.

"We saw a very early onset to the melt season, about 10 days to two weeks earlier than usual," Scambos says. And at the summer solstice, when the sun was at its highest, the skies were mostly clear, allowing more sunlight to heat the ocean and melt the ice.

"And by August, we saw an astonishing rate of decline, mostly because the ice was very thin and melted out after three months of warm weather," Scambos says.

This melting trend is accelerating because the ice in the Arctic is getting thinner as the region warms. A few decades ago, lots of ice in the Arctic was 10 feet thick and would clump up as wind pushed it around the northern coastlines.

"That ice used to survive and stir around in the Arctic for decades and create a very thick mass that could survive a few warm summers," Scambos says. "We don't get that anymore. We get persistently warm summers that have gradually eroded the ice cover until it's very, very thin and not stable."

Scambos isn't the only one startled by this abrupt decline.

"It doesn't take a scientist to look at what's happened to the Arctic sea ice to know that something really huge is happening in the climate system," says Jennifer Francis at Rutgers University.

She says the effects of this change won't be confined to the Arctic. Polar bears and walruses, which depend on floating ice, may feel the change most acutely. But changes in the far north are likely to affect our weather as well. She says Arctic warming changes the way waves of weather flow across the Northern Hemisphere.

"Those waves that storms are associated with are tending to move more slowly. And what this means is that increases the probability of some kinds of extreme weather that are related to weather conditions that hang around a long time."

Think of those slow-moving snow storms that buried the East Coast a couple of winters ago. She expects some extreme weather this coming winter, though there's no telling whether it will hit us or someone on the other side of the globe.

Scientists still make projections for when the Arctic could be completely free of summer ice, and those mostly point to the 2030s or beyond. But Scambos says it's a mistake to pay too much attention to the date when the summertime Arctic will be completely free of ice.

"Nobody's going to care that there's a small patch of say 1 or 2 million square kilometers in the Arctic," he says, "because it will be off to one side."

If you care about sea lanes through the Arctic Ocean — or want to understand the climactic impacts of open water in the Arctic — you don't have to wait to see those effects.

Yet, even in extremely warm years like this one, ice is still a force to contend with. Some of the key navigational passages never did open up this summer. And a chunk of ice 30 miles long is heading toward Shell Oil's drilling site in the Arctic Ocean. That has forced the company to move its rig out of the way, just a day after it started drilling.


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