Polar regions key to understanding climate change: Experts

December 4th, 2008 - 12:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Geneva, Dec 4 (DPA) Changes taking place in the Arctic and the Antarctica, as well as the unique conditions existing at those ends of the planet, make the polar regions key to understanding climate change and a host of other topics, scientists said.Polar weather influences climates in areas as far away as the tropics and changes will have effects across the world.

“The melting of the ice caps is a dramatic thing,” said Geir Braathen of the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization.

“It can change the entire planet’s climate.”

Some scientists have estimated that the Arctic basin will experience ice-free summers by 2040 or even sooner, a worrying prospect, as the ice serves as a moderator of the planet’s climate, in part by deflecting heat radiation back into space.

“There are very strong indication that changes are happening more rapidly than scientists ever expected,” said Rhian Salmon with the ongoing International Polar Year, which Thursday will place the focus on what is happening above the polar regions as part of its Polar Day.

Last month, researchers, using satellite imaging, discovered further signs of ice breaking down in the Antarctic, and warned that over the last 50 years the temperature there has increased by 2.5 degrees Celsius.

“We are trying to understand how the Earth system works,” Salmon said, adding that “to understand climate change we need to understand all the interconnections,” and better connect the public and researchers.

On Thursday, students from Europe, including Britain and Germany, as well as a group in Egypt, will be video linked by satellite to scientists at both polar ends, to better explain science from the source to interested youngsters.

One primary concern for Braathen at the WMO, who studies atmospheric science, is what will happen to the polar regions as the climate continues to change.

He said carbon dioxide emissions along with methane and other greenhouse gases were affecting many regions, including Greenland, where ice was “melting at an increasingly rapid rate,” contributing, with other factors like ocean warming, to rising sea levels.

“The human species is really capable of making changes to our planet,” he batted away so-called “climate sceptics.”

The situation of the ozone holes over the polar regions is expected to get worse before it gets better and it will take until 2050 for the ozone layer to be as healthy as it was in 1980.

The healing process is thanks to an international agreement, the Montreal Protocol from 1987, in which governments pledged to cut back on emissions harmful to the ozone, which “accidentally” also helped cut greenhouse gas emissions in general.

Some experts have expressed apprehension that the current talks on the climate in Poznan, Poland, will not lead to the same political consensus of the late 1980s.

For most people, the ozone layer depletion is associated with skin cancer, since it serves as a protector from dangerous ultra-violet rays, but Braathen says much more is at stake.

“We can put on clothes and sunscreen, but plants and animals can’t. So, we have a major reason for concern for the biosphere as a whole,” he explained.

The polar regions are especially unique and a prime place for research into climate as well as studies on auroras, generally known for their beauty, to understand geomagnetic processes.

As part of the interconnectivity, scientists are also studying space weather, which can lead to improved television satellites and defence systems as well as increase understanding of Earth’s weather patterns.

Not all uses can be predicted, experts said, particularly given that discoveries are many times accidental. Even climate change itself was discovered by researcher looking into weather patterns in general.

The UN’s Education and Science agency, UNESCO, declared 2009 to be the International Year of Astronomy, and researchers studying the Earth as well as outer space hope to combine information so that “scientific knowledge can contribute to a more equitable and peaceful society.”

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