Climate change impacts on Arctic
A three-week Greenpeace expedition to the retreating Arctic ice pack, completed on July 31, has uncovered new evidence that climate change is impacting on the wildlife and ecology of the region.
The Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise, which carried a crew and scientists from 10 countries, travelled along the edge of the polar ice pack in the Chukchi Sea between Alaska and Russia counting and ageing groups of walrus, and observing polar bears and black guillemots [oceanic birds].
"Preliminary results indicate that the walrus population isn't doing so well", said Dr Brendan Kelly, head of the research team. "We don't have enough data to say how rapid a decline it is, but the early signs of climate change, such as the retreat of the sea ice and the changes in the food supply for these animals, do not bode well."
The melting of the polar pack is the most obvious impact of climate change in the western Arctic, which is warming at a rate three to five times faster than the rest of the globe. During July there was an extremely rapid melt-out of the ice in the Chukchi Sea, which retreated nearly 350 kilometres in some places during the expedition.
Walrus, polar bears, seals, seabirds and other uniquely Arctic animals are dependent on the sea ice for their survival and so are immediately affected by any change to it. The walrus is a mainstay of the diet of Alaskan native communities in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.
Steve Sawyer, Greenpeace spokesperson on the Arctic Sunrise, said, "It's time to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and phase out the use of fossil fuels in favour of cleaner forms of energy, such as solar and wind power".