Environment Forum

‘Not enough ice to make a margarita’

Scientists aboard the Russian research vessel Professor Khromov spent the weekend collecting samples of water, sealife and ocean-floor mud at a spot in the western Arctic Ocean that in most years would be covered with sea ice.

The ship, carrying researchers for the six-week RUSALCA expedition, was in its most northerly planned sampling stop, or “station,”  a location nearly 350 miles (563 km) northwest of Barrow, Alaska. During the mission’s last cruise in 2004, the most northerly accessible location was 345 miles (555 km) south of the weekend’s station.

Mission coordinator Kevin Wood, of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,  writes from the ship that the water is open on all sides. “There isn’t enough ice here to make a margarita,” Wood said.

The joint U.S.-Russian expedition is carrying out research to gauge the effects of global warming on the Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea through the end of the month.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported last week that the Arctic’s sea ice thawed to its third smallest on record. This is up slightly from from the last two years, but continues an overall decline that is symptomatic of climate change. The smallest summer ice pack on record was in 2007.

Zodiac man gets his day

Rodney Russ lives for the times he is at the rudder of a Zodiac.

For the owner of Heritage Expeditions, the New Zealand-based company that is operating the Russian research ship Professor Khromov in the Bering Sea, the more challenging the conditions the better.

“The rougher the waves, the more difficult the landing, the more remote and obscure the place, the more I enjoy it,” Russ said in a corridor on the Khromov.

So it was with disappointment that Russ was forced to put the inflatable boat with the outboard motor away, after he had donned his wet-weather gear and readied the craft for a spin off the Siberian coast in late August.

Environmental research in an age of Arctic sovereignty

In an age of angst about security and Arctic sovereignty, it’s no mean feat piecing together an oceanographic expedition involving scientists from the United States, Russia and elsewhere and launching the whole affair from a northern U.S. port.

In the choppy waters of the Bering Sea just off Nome, Alaska, the Russian research ship Professor Khromov is waiting to come in to port, where strict security protocols will be adhered to under the watchful eye of U.S. authorities.

As many as 50 scientists are teaming up for two legs of study in the Bering Strait and northward in August and September, and those without special U.S. Transportation Security Administration clearance cards will be escorted aboard by people designated to do so. No exceptions.

Sarah Palin’s new focus

Admit it: we all wondered just what Sarah Palin would turn her time and talents to after she announced her resignation from the Alaska governor’s job, and now she’s given what looks like an answer. In an op-ed column in The Washington Post, Palin took a swipe at Washington insiders and the mainstream media for ignoring the economy, and then tipped her hand.

“Unfortunately, many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges,” she wrote. “So, at risk of disappointing the chattering class, let me make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be: I am deeply concerned about President Obama’s cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.”

In a brief story about this, we noted that Palin’s plans for spurring the U.S. economy include offshore drilling, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and exploring the possibility of nuclear power in every state.

Cracking views of Antarctic icebergs

As a view out of your home it’s hard to match — a constantly changing vista of icebergs just outside the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera research station.

Every day the winds and tides on the Antarctic Peninsula shift them around — some break up  abruptly with a loud splash while many simply slowly grind into ice cubes against the shore and disappear. I’ve tried to take a picture every day from the main balcony here (there’s a metal mast on the right hand side of each photo).

Walking along the shore here you can hear a bubbling as air in the ice melts out into the water. The old ice is the clearest — good for putting in cold drinks. Some form gravity-defying shapes such as arches or big holes — one in the bay a few days ago looked like a giant catamaran.

Antarctica warms; scientists say we’re to blame

New research shows that both Antarctica and the Arctic are getting less icy – and the best explanation is mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

But will that convert anyone who doubts that global warming is caused by human activities, led by burning fossil fuels?

The scientists, writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, say that a study of temperature records from Antarctica (there aren’t many of them) shows a slight rising trend over recent decades that can be best explained by a build-up of greenhouse gases led by carbon dioxide.

Antarctic ice expands — global warming at work?

Adelie penguins in Antarctica are photographed in this January 18, 2005 file photo. The pesticide DDT, banned decades ago in much of the world, still shows up in penguins in Antarctica, probably due to the chemical’s accumulation in melting glaciers, a sea bird expert said on May 9, 2008. REUTERS/Heidi Geisz/Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Handout (ANTARCTICA).Ice getting bigger hardly sounds like a sign of global warming but that’s apparently what is happening in the seas around Antarctica.

Leading climate scientists say that a tiny trend towards bigger ice in winter floating on the oceans around the frozen continent since the late 1970s — the maximum extent is around now, in September — is consistent with models of climate change that predict harsher winds and less warmer water at the surface.

It may even be that there’s more snow and rain falling onto the southern oceans because of climate change — that can raise the amount of fresh water on the surface and, hey presto, fresh water freezes at a higher temperature than salt water.

Global warming research getting more dangerous?

polar.gif Talk about occupational hazards.Five Wildlife Conservation Society scientists studying the effects of global warming on shorebirds in Arctic Alaska had to be airlifted away from their remote camp late last month because of the appearance of another species whose life is changing as warming helps erode shores and melt sea ice. The researchers said a polar bear stuck on land forced them to evacuate their camp north of the remote Teshekpuk Lake on the Beaufort Sea –leaving food and tents behind.  The carnivorous bears would normally be out on sea ice this time of year. But with recent warming the ice is miles from shore and polar bears, which were recently listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, are becoming increasingly trapped on land well away from their usual seal prey, said Dr. Steve Zack, who leads Arctic studies for WCS ”We had no idea how hungry they’d be and thus how ornery they’d be,” Zack, who made the decision for the researchers to evacuate even though they had been trained in bear safety, told me by his mobile phone from his current base near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. ”Where there’s one polar bear there are usually more,” he said, adding that government scientists have seen 32 polar bears stuck on shore this year, up from only one or two in previous years. In subsequent fly-overs over the abandoned camp, the team discovered that bears had eaten all of the food left by the researchers and destroyed two $500 tents. ”It was an ironic circumstance that studying climate change issues for our shorebirds put us in harm’s way with climate change effects on polar bears,” said Zack.  Image by Mark Maftei, WCS 

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