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from The Observatory:

Our polar backyard

The Arctic is not under-covered. Some might even say the opposite is true. The polar bear has been “the poster child of climate change” for years, for instance, but communications experts worry that journalists’ fascination with the charismatic animal has made global warming seem like a distant problem and hindered public engagement. Reporters should localize climate-change coverage, these experts say, by focusing on energy use, public health, and other “backyard” angles.

It is possible to localize the Arctic itself, however. A good example of how this is done is a terrific 14-page special report in The Economist’s June 16-22 issue, which explores what “the vanishing north” means for global politics, trade, and natural resources.

“The Arctic, no longer distant or inviolable, has emerged, almost overnight, as a powerful symbol of the age of man,” writes James Astill, the magazine’s environment editor. He then sets out to scrutinize the region’s peril and promise over the course of eight articles, explaining that “the retreating ice offers access to precious minerals and new sea lanes—but also carries grave dangers.”

The package begins, logically, with a review of existing Arctic science, which lays out the basics: warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, thinning sea ice, melting permafrost, concern about so-called tipping points, and threats to biodiversity. This includes the obligatory mention of polar bears and it’s the driest part of the report. “Much of the change in the Arctic is understood; little of it is reassuring,” Astill reminds readers. But he localizes the science, to some extent, by citing tentative new research, which suggests that thawing can destabilize the Arctic’s “boundary layer,” allowing snowy winds to descend upon cities far to the south.

from Photographers' Blog:

Owners of The White Silence

By Anton Golubev

When I was a little boy, I adored the books of Jack London. The Nature of the North - that was the thing that captivated me. The White Silence; a chilling title, words that are hard to appreciate for a city dweller used to the din of cars and neon lights. The majority of Russians seldom leave cities further than to go to the dacha, the country houses that most people own just outside the city limits. Some might travel to some mountains or woodlands. Only a few will visit such a godforsaken place as the Russian North. The land where The White Silence reigns.

The North is a cruel place. Here, where the population density reaches one person per ten square kilometers, there is no transport links, there is nobody to ask the way, there is nobody to ask for a light or hot food, and there is little chance that anybody can help you if something happens. You can count on yourself only. The White Silence is a jingling calm when you can't hear any sound around, it's a thin line of a low northern wood on the horizon between two halves of the white nothing, it's a blizzard when the boundless white Tundra flows together with the overhanging northern sky, it's a half-strewed snowmobile track which you follow to reach the light and warm of a human dwelling.

from Environment Forum:

Coke’s new look: polar-bear white

Coca-Cola has one of the most recognizable brands on the planet: the red can with the white letters. World Wildlife Fund has an equally eye-catching logo: a black-and-white panda. This week, the two are joining forces to change the Coke can's look from red to white. It's meant to raise awareness and money to find a safe haven for polar bears, listed as a threatened species because their icy Arctic habitat is melting under their paws due to climate change.

In a project called Arctic Home, Coke plans to turn 1.4 billion of its soft-drink cans white for the first time in its history, replacing the familiar red with an image of a mother polar bear and two cubs making their way across the Arctic. There will also be white bottle caps on other drinks the company sells. The new look is to show up on store shelves from November 1 through February 2012.

from Photographers' Blog:

An arctic adventure

Wind patterns are left in the ice pack that covers the Arctic Ocean north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 19, 2011.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The Arctic Ocean in March is basically an ocean of ice. Almost the entire thing is covered from October to June in an icepack that only partially disappears in the summer and is still very solid in March.

Why would anyone in their right mind volunteer to spend a month to a month in a half in temperatures that usually don’t exceed -10 degrees Fahrenheit or -23 degrees Celsius? In the case of the roughly two dozen souls who work either for the British, Canadian and United States Navy or the Arctic Physics Laboratory Ice Station, it is because there is work to be done.

from Environment Forum:

“The Harry Potter theory of climate”

USA/Climate doesn't change by magic.

Just ask Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. On a conference call with other scientists and reporters, Serreze and others linked climate change to the last two harsh winters over much of the United States and Europe. And they squarely blamed human-caused greenhouse gas emissions for the rise in world temperatures that got the process going.

"Climate doesn't change all by itself," Serreze said. "It's not like the Harry Potter theory of climate, where he flicks his magic wand and the climate suddenly changes. Climate only changes for a reason."

from Environment Forum:

Polar bears, sure. But grolar bears?

RUSSIA/Most people have seen a polar bear, usually at the local zoo. And most zoo-goers know that wildlife advocates worry about the big white bears' future as their icy Arctic habitat literally melts away as a result of global climate change. But apparently more than the climate is changing above the Arctic Circle.

The new mammal around the North Pole is the grolar bear, a hybrid created when a polar bear and a grizzly bear mate. Then there's the narluga, a hybrid of the narwhal and beluga whale. The presence of these two new creatures and others produced by cross-breeding may be caused when melting sea ice allows them to mingle in ways they couldn't before, according to a comment in the journal Nature.

from Environment Forum:

10,000 walruses, ready for their close-up

BELARUS/Zoom! Pan! Swish!  Take a look at a new movie of walruses crowding an Alaska beach -- as you've never seen them before! Shot from 4,000 feet up in the air, the vast herd of walruses looks like a pile of brown gravel from a distance. (A far different view than the extreme close-up in the still photo at left, which was taken at a zoo in Belarus.)

As the camera in Alaska zooms in, you can see there are thousands of walruses scrambling ashore as the ice floes they normally use as hunting platforms melt away. The video was shot this month at Point Lay, Alaska, and distributed this week by the U.S. Geological Survey. It's impossible to say how many are on this beach in this movie, but an Arctic scientist at World Wildlife Fund estimates between 10,000 and 20,000 of the tusked marine mammals have hauled themselves onto land in Alaska this year as summer Arctic sea ice shrank to its third-smallest recorded size.

from Environment Forum:

Walruses in Louisiana? Eyebrow-raising details of BP’s spill response plan

LIFE WALRUSLouisiana walruses? Seals swimming along the Gulf Coast?

These creatures normally live in the Arctic Ocean, not the Gulf of Mexico, but they're listed as "sensitive biological resources" that could be affected by an oil spill in the area in a document filed by BP last June with the U.S. Minerals Management Service. More than a month after BP's Deepwater Horizon rig blew out and sank on April 20, the British oil giant's regional spill response plan drew some severe criticism from the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

One problem with BP's nearly 600-page spill response plan? "It was utterly useless in the event of a spill," Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director, said by telephone. His group, which acts as a kind of safe haven for government whistle-blowers, detailed what it called "outright inanities"  in BP's filing and the government's approval of it.

from Environment Forum:

Oil spill on ice not worth the risk

ENERGY CONGRESS

-- Dennis Takahashi-Kelso is executive vice president of Ocean Conservancy and was Alaska Commissioner of Environmental Conservation at the time of the Exxon Valdez spill. Jim Ayers is vice president and senior adviser at Oceana and was executive director of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. Any views expressed here are their own. --

As we are seeing each day, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform blowout in America’s Gulf coast is a human and environmental tragedy.

from Global News Journal:

The view from Iqaluit: mostly white

iqaluitjpgWhen we told Reuters editors we'd be adding plenty of color to the stories we're putting together from a G7 finance meeting in the Canadian Arctic this weekend, there was a split second of bemused silence on the line. "I suppose that color is mostly white," said one wag. And that just about sums up Iqaluit, which is clearly the remotest and most inaccessible place where the Group of Seven finance ministers and central bankers have ever met.

Iqaluit, for the geographically challenged, is a town of some 6,000 people about three hours flight from either Ottawa or Montreal. (Greenland might be closer but you would have to get to Greenland first.)  At this time of year, the snow is everywhere -- gray-white on the roads, blue-white in the shadows and a sort of yellow-white when the watery sun hits it full on. The temperature is a balmy -15C today (0F), although there's a wind that bites right through you, and it's chilly enough that you really don't want to take your gloves off for more than one picture before your fingers start to freeze.

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