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Polar Science News from January 2006

Greenhouse gas more dangerous than thought
A new scientific report concludes that concentrations of greenhouse gases may have more serious impacts than previously believed. It also says there is only a small chance of greenhouse gas emissions being kept below "dangerous" levels. Among other things, the report "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change" fears that the Greenland ice sheet is likely to melt, leading sea levels to rise by seven metres over 1.000 years. (January 30, 2006)

Arctic tundra thaws
A new research project shows that the Arctic tundra is thawing like never before. By comparing aerial photographs from 1945, 1982 and 2001, Torre Jorgensen of Alaska Biological Research in Fairbanks, Alaska, and his colleagues have documented a large increase in permafrost melting in at least one area of the state since 1982. The research concludes that the number of waterlogged pits in 600.000-square-metre region on the Beaufort coastal plain has grown by a factor of about 74 in the past two decades. (January 30, 2006)

Undersea methane deposit found
Scientists have discovered an undersea deposit of frozen methane 15 miles off the Southern California coast. However, it is still unknown whether it can be harnessed as a potential energy source. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in tapping methane hydrates, ice-like crystals that form at low temperatures and high pressure in seabeds and in Arctic permafrost. (January 30, 2006)
Globe and mail

Japanese team drills oldest Antarctic ice core
Japanese researchers drilling ice cores in Antarctica have possibly sampled the oldest ice ever found in the continent - dating back 1 million years. The samples were taken from a depth of 3,028.52 meters in the Antarctic ice sheet near the Japanese Dome Fuji research station. The exact dating of the ice cores will be conducted after arriving in Japan in the spring. The oldest sample collected so far from the icy continent so far was 800.000 years old. It was found by a team of European Union scientists at Dome C. (January 26, 2006)
The Japan Times

Turbine to cool global warming
Researcher Dr. Peter Flynn of the University of Alberta has come up with an odd scheme to reduce the effects of global warming - one that involves 8,100 barges equipped with wind turbines pumping water to produce more Arctic ice. The pumps, powered by the turbines, would gush water from beneath the ice on to the surface, where it would freeze and thicken up to seven metres during the winter. The unusual plan has been suggested as a last resort to deal with the consequences of climate change. (January 26, 2006)
Nunatsiaq News

Vostok's neighbors uncovered
Scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, have for the first time described the size, depth and origin of Antarctica's Lake Vostok's two largest neighbors. The scientists' findings indicate that an exotic ecosystem may be thriving in the icy waters 35 million years after being sealed off from the surface. The scientists combined data from ice-penetrating radar, gravity surveys, satellite images, laser altimetry and records of a Soviet Antarctic Expedition that unknowingly traversed the lakes in 1958-1959. (January 26, 2006)

Alaskan wolf-killing program declared illegal
Alaska's controversial program allowing private hunters to gun down wolves from an aircraft to remove the animals from the food chain has been declared illegal by the Superior Court. Alaska's Division of Wildlife Conservation is trying to contact licensed hunters to inform them of the suspension. Alaska wolves are not classified as endangered or threatened, and licensed trappers harvest them for their fur each winter. (January 20, 2006)

The Arctic a playground for wealthy westerners
According to Glen Morris, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the Arctic has become a playground for wealthy holidaymakers while the indigenous Inuit population is struggling to cope with effects of climate change on the region. Read the BBC environmental opinion article below. (January 20, 2006)

Alaskan volcano erupts
After being inactive for 20 years, the Augustine Volcano in Alaska began erupting Wednesday. By Saturday morning, it had erupted at least eight time. According to scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory, there is reason to expect more eruptions over the next several days or weeks. The ash clouds can pose a health risk, especially for people with respiratory problems, and they can damage the engines of aircraft and vehicles on the ground. (January 18, 2006)

El nino affects Antarctic whales
New research shows that global climate processes are affecting southern right whales in the South Atlantic. A thirty-year study by an international team of scientists has found a strong relationship between breeding success of whales in the South Atlantic and El Nino in the western Pacific. It has long been known that these changes affect penguins and seals in the Antarctic, but this is the first time the link has been made with whales as they return to their calving grounds in the South Atlantic. According to Keith Reid from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the results help to understand processes in three connected oceans and are crucial to predicting the consequences of climate change on the whales. The results are published this week in the On-line journal Biology Letters. (January 16, 2006)

Opening to oil development in sensitive Alaskan area
The U.S. Interior Department is opening to oil and gas development in an ecologically sensitive area of Alaska's North Slope. The area has been off-limits for decades to protect caribou and migratory birds. The department said Wednesday it would allow oil development in virtually all the wetlands surrounding Lake Teshekpuk in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The lake region includes one of Alaska's most important molting areas beyond the Arctic Circle for wild geese and areas sought out by caribou herds for calving. (January 16, 2006)

Greenland sets Polar bear hunting quotas
For the first time, Greenland has launched hunting qoutas on polar bears in order to protect the species. At the same time, plans to allow limited hunting for tourists has been postponed, says officials. According to Ole Heinrich of Greenland's fishing and hunting directorate, the quota has been set to 150 animals in 2006, which is a lot fewer than the 200 to 250 animals normally killed during the last years. And only professional hunters are allowed to hunt the bears. (January 6, 2006)

Ocean currents shifted due to global warming
An extraordinary burst of global warming that occurred around 55 million years ago dramatically reversed Earth's pattern of ocean currents, a new study concludes. The finding strengthens modern-day concerns about climate change. According to the study, the planet's surface temperature raised by between five and eight degrees C in a very short time, unleashing climate shifts that endured tens of thousands of years. (January 6, 2006)

Experts question melting forecasts
An Alaskan permafrost expert doubts new predictions from a new computer climate model foreseeing rapid melting in the north over the next century. A recent study by two American climate research centres says 90 per cent of the near-surface permafrost in the northern hemisphere could melt within the next 100 years. The study should have taken into account the cooling effects of lower layers of permafrost, says Vladimir Romanovsky of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. (January 4, 2006)
CBC North

Third Indian research station in Antarctica
India's third permanent station is proposed to be set up in icy Antarctica to provide further momentum to its ongoing extensive research in polar science. A site at Larsmann Hill has been selected for the purpose by the Department of Ocean Development. The site is identified at latitude 69 degree South and longitude 76 degrees East after preliminary surveys during the Antarctic summer of 2003-04 and 2004-05. (January 4, 2006)
Hindustan Times