Experts Will Meet to Discuss Affects of Climate Change in the Arctic

In less than three weeks, leading Arctic scientists, researchers, NGOs, and policy makers will convene at ArcticNet's 2012 Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM2012) to discuss how climate change is affecting the Canadian arctic.

"With Canada on the eve of taking over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, this year's meeting will address some of the major challenges and opportunities brought by climate change and modernization in the Arctic," said Louis Fortier, scientific director at ArcticNet, the organization hosting ASM2012. ArcticNet is a network of researchers and students investigating the impacts of climate change and modernization in the Canadian Arctic.

The list of presenters at ASM2012 includes Dr. David Barber of the University of Manitoba. In 2007-08, Dr. Barber led a $150 million research project involving over 300 scientists to study how global warming in the Arctic predicts the effects of climate change on our planet.

Dr. Barber's team helped document the surprisingly rapid depletion of Arctic multi-year sea ice, finding that the Arctic has been losing about 70,000 square kilometers of sea ice per year during the past decade.

Such research helped shore up the scientific consensus that increased global temperatures, resulting from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas, will rid the Arctic Ocean of summer sea ice by the end of the century. Some scientists project that the Arctic will be free of summer sea ice as early as 2015.

Dr. Barber and his associates have also studied a number of feedback mechanisms that speed up climate change. One such feedback has to do with the fact that sea ice reflects more solar energy than open ocean, so as sea ice melts the oceans heat up even faster. There is also concern that the melting of permafrost is releasing methane from the Arctic region, causing even more warming.

Melting sea ice has also created new economic opportunities in the Arctic. "The Arctic is changing rapidly," said Fortier. "Arctic ice is melting at record rates, new shipping routes are opening up and industries are showing keen interests in potential opportunities in the area."

Until 2009, Arctic pack ice prevented regular shipping through the Northwest Passage, but melting sea ice now allows increased shipping through the area. "Like oil and gas, newly ice-free sea routes offer massive economic gains by cutting thousands of kilometers off sailings between Asia and Europe," wrote Dr. Michael Byers, a professor of Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia who will present at ASM2012.

"Chinese shipping companies alone could save billions of dollars each year by using the Northern Sea Route along the coast of Russia," he added. Byers noted that increased access through the Northwest Passage could bring additional tourism, creating jobs and opening markets for Inuit and other indigenous craftsmen.

ASM2012 will also address how climate change is affecting industrial development, the vulnerability of indigenous communities, and native wildlife. The meeting, Canada's largest annual Arctic research gathering, is expected to attract over 450 people and will take place between Dec. 10 and 14 at the Westin Bayshore hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Image credit: DVIDSHUB, Flickr