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[greenyes] Climate Disruption Above Arctic Circle /

Losing the Cool
For the people of the Arctic, climate change is more than a scientific
finding -- it's a new, and unwelcome, way of life.
Gordon Laird
March/April 2002 Issue
As a snow squall blows in from greenland, a crowd huddles inside the Iqaluit
Municipal Arena while the skaters wait for the puck to drop. It's the start
of the annual Baffin Island hockey tournament and Iqaluit, the capital of
Canada's self-governed Inuit province, Nunavut, faces off against Pond
Inlet, a remote settlement 800 miles to the north. Skates flashing, teenage
boys scramble up and down the ice, hoping to prove themselves in front of
the capital city fans.
Hockey is the premier team sport in Nunavut, a place where both dogsleds and
desktop computers are common household items. Communities that once met on
the pack ice during hunting forays now await the passing of the Zamboni
together, bundled up in fur-fringed parkas and kamiks. Iqaluit boasts one of
the province's two artificial ice surfaces; everyone else plays the
old-fashioned way, on outdoor rinks that usually freeze solid by the time
the season begins in November.
But the last several winters have brought a crisis for Nunavut hockey.
Temperatures across the territory have hovered near or above freezing long
into the Arctic winter, keeping many teams benched until Christmas. Two
years ago, the provincial hockey association called for help from Canada's
hockey authorities because 50 percent of its members had yet to start
playing and paying their dues. Even villages well north of the Arctic Circle
couldn't cobble together enough ice time to field a team. And with
temperatures once again reaching record highs across the continent's
northern regions, this winter has proved to be another troublesome season.
The slushy ice and erratic weather that have been frustrating Nunavut's
hockey players are part of a larger set of climatic trends that are playing
out throughout the Arctic. Sea ice -- the frozen ocean surface that human
and animal hunters traverse in search of their prey -- is more mobile and
fragile than it was a decade ago. Disoriented polar bears wander inland at
times when they would normally be prowling the floes for seal. Skies are
cloudier, rain falls more often, and locals report the arrival of species
never seen before, such as robins.
Only a few weeks before my visit to Nunavut early last year, the U.N.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change unveiled its latest evaluation of
climate science around the world. The panel's report echoed and amplified
the commission's previous warnings: The global warming trend measured
throughout the 1990s had accelerated far past earlier estimates. On average,
the scientists predicted, the planet could see a rise in average
temperatures of 11 degrees by 2100, an increase "without precedent during
the last 10,000 years." An even more dramatic warm-up, two to three times as
fast, was forecast for Greenland, Alaska, and Arctic Canada.
The warming has already begun. Over the past 30 years, winter temperatures
in parts of the north have risen more than 10 degrees, compared to a
worldwide increase of just 1 degree. The volume of ice in the polar cap has
decreased 40 percent since American submarines first took measurements in
1958. Some researchers predict that if greenhouse-gas emissions continue
unabated, summer ice over the North Pole could disappear by 2050 -- a
catastrophic melt that, under one long-term scenario, could raise oceans by
up to 21 feet worldwide.
The U.N. panel's findings barely made the news in the United States, where
the Bush administration was preparing to withdraw from worldwide
climate-change negotiations. But in Nunavut, the report confirmed what
hunters, hockey players, and traditional elders already knew all too well.
For the people of the Arctic have been the first among us to learn what it
means to live in a greenhouse world.
Peter Anderson, President
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Ph: (608) 231-1100
Fax: (608) 233-0011
Cell: (608) 698-1314
eMail: anderson@no.address

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