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Polar Science News from December 2005


Permafrost not so permanent
Global warming may lead to thawing of perennially frozen soil in the Arctic and cause serious damaging of buildings and infrastructure within the next 100 years. New simulations from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) show that over half of the area covered by 10 feet of permafrost could thaw by 2050 and as much as 90 percent by 2100. Scientists expect the thawing to increase runoff to the Arctic Ocean and release vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. The study is the first to examine the state of permafrost in a global model that includes interactions among the atmosphere, ocean, land, and sea ice as well as a soil model that depicts freezing and thawing. (December 21, 2005)
Terra Daily
Mammoth dna decoded
Scientists have pieced together part of the genetic recipe of the extinct woolly mammoth. The 5,000 DNA letters spell out the genetic code of its mitochondria, the structures in the cell that generate energy. The research, published in the online edition of Nature, gives an insight into the elephant family tree. It shows that the mammoth was most closely related to the Asian rather than the African elephant. The three groups split from a common ancestor about six million years ago, with Asian elephants and mammoths diverging about half a million years later. (December 19, 2005)
BBC
Polar bears drown
For the first time, scientists have found evidence that polar bears are drowning because climate change is melting the Arctic ice shelf. The researchers were startled to find bears having to swim up to 60 miles across open sea to find food. The reason is that they are being forced into the long voyages because the ice floes from which they feed are melting, becoming smaller and drifting farther apart. Although polar bears are strong swimmers, they are adapted for swimming close to the shore. Their sea journeys leave them them vulnerable to exhaustion, hypothermia or being swamped by waves. (December 19, 2005)
Times Online

Climate change affect Inuit health
Researchers fear the North's changing environment will affect the health of Inuit by decreasing access to traditional foods from the land. Dr. Christopher Furgal, who has been conducting research with 17 Inuit communities from the western Arctic to Labrador, says that less country food is circulating within the communities as a result of the decrease in hunting activities. (December 19, 2005)
CBC North
Narwhal's tooth is super-sensing organ
New research performed by the Connecticut dentist, Martin Nweeia, reveals new knowledge on the narwhal's tooth's unique structure and and function. Using cutting-edge technology, Nweeia and his colleagues learned that the narwhal's oversize tooth possesses a rare combination of extraordinary strength and extreme flexibility. The team also found compelling evidence that the tusk may be a hydrodynamic sensory organ that contains an extensive nerve system and gathers valuable information for survival in Arctic waters. (December 19, 2005)
National Geographic
Greenland glacier melts
The Kangerdlugssuaq glacier in Greenland continues its retreat. Scientists of the University of Maine have measured a 5 kilometer retreat of the terminus and a 300% acceleration in the flow speed of the glacier during the last year or so. The glacier drains about 4% of the ice sheet, dumping tens of cubic kilometers of fresh water in the North Atlantic. (December 12, 2005)
BBC
Killer whale most contaminated animal
According to new research from the Norwegian Polar Institute, the killer whale is the most contaminated animal of the Arctic. No other arctic mammals have invested such a high concentration of hazardous man made chemicals. The researchers have tested blubber samples taken from creatures in Tysfjord in the Norwegian Arctic. The chemicals they found included pesticides, flame retardants and PCBs. (December 12, 2005)
BBC
From the Greenland ice sheet to Mars
The telltale signs of microbial life trapped nearly two miles beneath Greenland's ice may offer tantalizing new implications for finding life on Mars. At three points deep within a Greenland ice core, researchers have found methane-producing microbes whose presence appears to explain the unusually high concentrations of methane gas measured in the same ice-core sections. (December 9, 2005)
Newsday
Arctic soil carbon underestimated
New research show that the amount of soil carbon available in the high Arctic to be released into the atmosphere may be much higher that previously thought. A former study seems to have greatly underestimated the organic carbon stored in the soil because the researchers only looked at the top 10 inches of soil. According to University of Washington researcher Jennifer Horwath, the team dug substantially deeper - in some instances more than 3 feet down - and found significantly more carbon. (December 6, 2005)
Science a Go Go
Best map ever of tides beneath Antarctica
Scientists of the Ohio State University have used minute fluctuations in gravity to produce the best map yet of ocean tides that flow beneath two large Antarctic ice shelves. Large tides flow along the ocean floor beneath the Larsen and Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelves. Though scientists have long known of these tides, they have not yet been modeled accurately, said C.K. Shum, professor of civil and environmental engineering and geodetic science. However, the tides play a major role in scientists' efforts to measure how much the ice sheets are melting or freezing. (December 6, 2005)
Terra Daily
Skulls mark river’s erosion
As in most of Alaska’s other riverside villages erosion in Akiak claims between five and 20 feet of the riverbank during each season. For years the locals have watched the bizarre consequences of the Kuskowim River’s spring breakup. Occasionally a human skull from a long forgotten cemetery appears on the shore. A truck left 200 feet from the river back in 1965 now dangles over the bank. Measures to curb the erosion are emerging from the villagers to substitute now defunct earlier installations. (December 6, 2005)
ENN
The Gulf Stream is weakening
According to new research published in the scientific journal Nature, the Golf Stream is weakening due to less salinity in the northern oceans caused by the melting of glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic. The weakening will bring less heat north and probably cause very cold winters in the near future. The researchers' conclusions are based on 50 years of Atlantic observations. (December 1, 2005)
BBC