From: Reuters
Published December 14, 2007 06:54 AM

Arctic explorers postpone sea ice study

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Three British polar explorers have postponed for a year a trip to the North Pole they were due to make in early 2008 to try to establish when Arctic summer sea ice will vanish because of global warming.

A spokesman said on Friday expedition leader and veteran Polar explorer Pen Hadow had postponed the trip until February 2009 to expand the range of scientists and sponsors involved.

"It will only take a few months to organize this. But that means having to delay for a year because there is only one Arctic season in which you can do this," the group spokesman told Reuters. "So, reluctantly Pen took this decision."

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The ice is already receding at a rate of 300,000 square km (115,000 square miles) a year -- about the size of the British Isles -- but despite some submarine and satellite measurements there is no accurate measure of how rapidly it is also thinning.

The decision to postpone came as U.N. environment ministers faced deadlock on the Indonesian island of Bali as they try to agree an outline for talks to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on cutting carbon emissions which expires in 2009.

Estimates of final total disappearance of the summer sea ice range from 16 to 100 years, and the four-month expedition aims to fine-tune that by getting accurate readings of the ice's thickness from the surface.

It is not just polar bears and global sea levels that are at risk. As the ice retreats, countries surrounding the region are starting to stake their claims on some of the richest untapped mineral and marine resources on the planet.

Russia has already claimed half of the Arctic sea bed where an estimated 25 percent of the earth's known reserves of gas and oil lie, and the summer opening of the Northwest Passage off Canada could cut weeks off east-west sea voyages.

The three explorers -- Hadow, Ann Daniels and Martin Hartley -- will walk, swim and ski the 2,000-km (1,250-mile) route over some of the toughest terrain in the world in temperatures down to minus 50 Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit), towing behind them an ice-penetrating impulse radar.

The specially designed radar will measure and transmit readings of the depth of snow and underlying ice every 20 cm (8 inches) -- providing 10 million readings during the journey.

(Editing by Caroline Drees)

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