It's always about the money Arctic faces 'significant challenges'
Polar year conference hears that global warming puts survival of some unique species at risk
By WILLIAM MARSDEN, The Gazette April 25, 2012
MONTREAL - A unique, all-season study of the effects of global warming in the Arctic Ocean shows that climate change is reducing biodiversity and posing "significant challenges to the survival of some of the Arctic's unique marine species."
The study also shows that climate change is resulting in the increased distribution, through the Arctic food chain, of contaminants such as methyl mercury.
The $40-million study, which was conducted by 10 scientific teams from 27 countries, spent 2007-2008 studying open water along what are called flaw leads, or breaks in multi-year ice.
"The Arctic Ocean is definitely changing on a whole lot of different fronts," professor David Barber of the University of Manitoba said.
The study was released Tuesday at the Polar Year conference in Montreal. The data was gathered aboard the research icebreaker Amundsen in the Amundsen Gulf, south of Banks Island in the eastern Beaufort Sea.
Scientists explained that with ice coverage and ice thickness reaching record lows over the last decade, the energy dynamics of the Arctic Ocean are changing, with profound effects on weather, ocean currents and plant and animal life.
With more solar energy piercing the open waters, ice melt also can affect the carbon exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere.
With longer and warmer summers, more carbon dioxide can escape into the atmosphere, while in the winter the colder open water can absorb more CO2.
This carbon can then drop with the heavier water to the bottom of the sea and remain there for years.
Professor Tim Papakyriakou, also of the University of Manitoba, said that scientists are not certain about how much CO2 is being stored in the water and how much is being released into the atmosphere.
What they did discover is that winter processes can be as important as summer processes in this carbon exchange. "We still don't know which is dominant," he said.
Scientists also discovered that the open water is becoming a "breeding ground" for underwater storms or eddies.
This can bring more nutrients into the Arctic water, swelling the populations of local fish such as Arctic cod and attracting invasive species.
The Polar Year conference comes at a time when studies indicate that interest in the Arctic among the general population is waning.
Yet, scientists found a glimmer of hope in the fact that, since February, individual Canadians sent donations totalling $12,000 to help fund a High Arctic research station after the federal government stopped financing it last year.
Professor James Drummond, of Dalhousie University, said in an interview that the money will help send a student to the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) at Eureka on the western coast of Ellesmere Island.
The research station had received $1.5 million a year since 2005 from the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) to maintain its permanent research station at Eureka.
The federal government created CFCAS in 2000 with a $110-million grant. The foundation has spent $5.5 million funding the PEARL project.
But the Conservative government decided last year not to fund the foundation as of March 1 this year, which means no more money for PEARL.
Drummond, who heads the PEARL project, said while the amount of money is small, it was nevertheless significant that more than 150 Canadians reacted to the government's decision by sending donations for PEARL to the foundation. Individual donations ranged from $5 to $1,000.
Dawn Conway, executive director of the foundation, said the donations came to the foundation despite the fact CFCAS did not advertise.
The federal government's decision to stop funding this work came at a critical time for PEARL's research into the ozone layer.
Drummond said that last year the hole in the ozone over the Arctic was larger than it has ever been and it is vital that the world permanently monitors this striking ozone depletion.
The government argues it is creating a research station at Cambridge Bay, which is about 1,000 kilometres south of Eureka.
"It's like predicting the weather in Montreal by collecting weather data in Georgia," Drummond said.
He said PEARL also is a vital station for the verification of data collected by satellites orbiting over the Arctic.
He said that unless satellite data on atmospheric science is verified by Earth-based stations, nobody can be sure if the data is accurate. The position of PEARL's High Arctic station is ideal for satellite verification, he said.
On April 30, PEARL will cease full-time, year-round operations.
Conway said Canadians can make donations to the PEARL project by sending cheques directly to CFCAS or by donating through the website, Canadahelps.org.
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