Ice in the Canadian Arctic is melting at such an alarming pace due to climate change that the North will be seasonally ice free in six years, according to a study released yesterday from a groundbreaking scientific expedition.
The dawning of a seasonal ice-free Canadian Arctic is upon us, said David Barber, one of the leading scientists on the 15-month expedition, adding the consequences for Inuit communities, the wildlife and the entire northern ecosystem are unpredictable.
And it is happening much faster than anyone anticipated, he said, noting that only two years ago a seasonal ice-free Arctic was predicted by 2030.
"I now believe that the Arctic will be out of multiyear ice in the summertime as early as 2015; it is coming very quickly," Dr. Barber said. "The whole system is in a very rapid rate of change. ... The Arctic is telling us that climate change is coming quicker and stronger."
He predicted that without the political will and proper leadership in Canada and elsewhere to reduce climate change, the consequences will become increasingly difficult to manage in the near future.
For instance, research points to serious local effects on the ecosystem, residents, shipping, industrial activity and just about "everything that goes on in the Arctic," Dr. Barber said. He added that the latest research shows that governments are basing their actions on conservative data.
"What concerns me is that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is making its predictions on modelling results which suggest that we will be seasonally ice free in the high Arctic by 2100. The observations say we are going to be ice free by 2015. That's a big discrepancy. ... That's got to be transmitted clearly and effectively to the policy-makers of the world," he said.
Canadian scientists on climate change attending the International Arctic Change 2008 conference this week in Quebec City, where Dr. Barber presented his study, said the call for immediate government action appears to be falling on deaf ears.
Along with the Inuit leaders, they urged Ottawa to take immediate measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and weigh the impact of climate change.
"Scientific information presented has raised to new levels our concern regarding the changes that are taking place in the Arctic. The social and economic challenges in the Arctic are only going to increase exponentially," experts in Arctic research from Canada and 15 other countries warned in a declaration yesterday.
Canadian scientist Don MacIver resigned yesterday as chair of the working group organizing the next World Climate Congress after the federal government revoked his permission to speak at an event in Poznan, Poland, where United Nations climate-change negotiations are being held.
One of Canada's leading climate-change experts, Gordon McBean, called this an indication of the Conservative government's policy of ignoring the real effects of greenhouse-gas emissions and supporting the development of heavily polluting fossil fuels, especially the Alberta oil sands.
"Unfortunately, the weight of the tar sands lobby is such that the federal government is not capable at this point to show the leadership that we need," Dr. McBean said. "In Environment Canada there are a lot of outstanding people. But I'm not sure that as a department it is functioning in a way that is conducive to providing the kind of leadership that we need."