Alaska Warming Changes Offer Early Warning

ByABC News
August 4, 2003, 1:25 PM

Sept. 15 -- Our northern outpost is melting.

Permafrost is becoming soggy, temperatures are increasing, icebergs are thinning, roads are collapsing and entire villages are being forced to move as the ground beneath homes melts and erodes away.

And scientists say the changes in Alaska may be a sign of what's coming in the lower 48 and elsewhere in the world.

Rugged Researchers Do Science in the Arctic

"We know the signal [of climate change] in the Arctic is substantially larger than it is anywhere else on the planet," said Robert Corell, a former top National Science Foundation scientist who now heads research for an international group of researchers focusing on climate change.

"But if you want to see what's going to happen 25 years from now around the planet, just have a look at the Arctic," Corell added. "This is the canary in the coal mine for climate change of the planet."

Accelerated Warming

Corell heads the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, or ACIA, a team of experts representing nations and native tribes with territory in the Arctic. Its aim is to assess the scope and effects of global warming in the north. OThe leaders met recently in Svalbard, Norway to work on a report that will be finished by the end of 2004.

But so far, their findings point to changes already under way in the Arctic and suggest that even bigger changes are yet to come.

ACIA's studies find that temperatures in Alaska have risen by 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 30 years. The increase is even steeper 8 degrees if only winter temperatures are considered. Temperatures have also risen globally, but so far only by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century.

Data from the National Climatic Data Center show that last year was Alaska's hottest on record and the past winter was the second-warmest ever recorded.

Although the cause of the warming remains uncertain, the majority of scientists believe it's related to the increased levels of pollutants from tailpipes and smokestacks. Pollutants containing gases including carbon dioxide and methane rise into the atmosphere and then trap heat, causing warming.