From: Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent, Reuters, WASHINGTON
Published December 2, 2011 05:39 AM

Whales win, walruses lose in warmer Arctic

The Arctic zone has moved into a warmer, greener "new normal" phase, which means less habitat for polar bears and more access for development, an international scientific team reported on Thursday.


Arctic air temperatures were higher - about 2.5 degrees F (1.5 degrees C) higher in 2011 than the baseline number for the previous 30 years - and there was a dramatic loss of sea ice and glacier mass, the scientists said in a telephone briefing.

With less bright ice to reflect sunlight, and more dark open water to absorb it, the Arctic's changed characteristics are likely to feed on each other and accelerate, specialists from 14 countries said in an annual assessment called the Arctic Report Card. (here)

"We've got a new normal," said Don Perovich, an expert on sea ice at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in New Hampshire.

"Whether it's a tipping point and it will never recover, who can say? But we have a new normal ... that has implications not just for the ice but other components of the Arctic system."

The turning point for the Arctic came in 2006, when persistent weather patterns pushed sea ice out of the Arctic, setting the stage for 2007, when Arctic ice extent - the area of the ocean covered by ice at summer's end - dropped to its lowest level ever. In 2011, Arctic sea ice reached its second-lowest extent.

Released as U.N. climate talks proceed in Durban, South Africa, the Arctic report found significant changes in atmospheric, sea ice and ocean conditions, and in land-based ice including glaciers, while marine and terrestrial ecosystems were also changed by the Arctic warming trend.

The Arctic acts as Earth's "air conditioner" and also as a potent global weather-maker. As a result, sweeping changes there influence life across the planet. The report found that even as the Arctic warmed, a shift in weather patterns sent cold Arctic air as far south as the United States and densely populated parts of northern Europe.

Photo credit: 1971yes, Shutterstock

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