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Shipping May Increase Arctic Warming

Page history last edited by Malcolm 10 years, 1 month ago

With both the Northeast and Northwest Passages opening to shipping this year, as the Arctic climate continues to change rapidly, ships actually using them could make matters worse. Read more at: http://wp.me/pLahN-k1

Arctic warming full ahead

October 30, 2010 — andyextance

It may be plunging towards the depths of its long, dark, cold, winter now, but 2010 has been another hot year for the Arctic. Air temperatures over Greenland reached the highest directly recorded levels, according to the 2010 Arctic Report Card. This meant that ice melted from the island’s huge inland sheet for 1 month longer than the average melt period over the past 30 years.

This summary, compiled by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), also documents an “exceptional” loss of glaciers around Greenland in 2010. 110 square miles of ice, four times the area of Manhattan Island, entered the ocean in the single largest glacier loss at Petermann glacier. “There is now no doubt that Greenland ice losses have accelerated,” the report underlines. “The implication is that sea level rise projections will again need to be revised upward.”

Sea rise is only one of the ways that these seemingly remote events can effect us, noted Jane Lubchenko, who heads the NOAA. “Beyond affecting the humans and wildlife that call the area home, the Arctic’s warmer temperatures and decreases in permafrost, snow cover, glaciers and sea ice also have wide-ranging consequences for the physical and biological systems in other parts of the world,” she said.

“The Arctic is an important driver of climate and weather around the world and serves as a critical feeding and breeding ground that supports globally significant populations of birds, mammals and fish,” Lubchenko added. Scientists have identified a link between Arctic changes and severe cold weather in December 2009 and February 2010 in eastern North America, northern Europe and eastern Asia, the report notes. However, the cause of this link is yet to be explained.

2010′s Arctic September minimum sea ice extent was the third lowest of the past 30 years, with sea routes opening up to allow ships to pass through the Arctic on both the east and west sides. As of 2010, the four lowest September ice extents have occurred in the past four years, and eight of the ten lowest summer minimums have occurred in the last decade.

If ice is replaced by sea traffic, those ships will bring air pollution that has the potential to accelerate Arctic climate change, research from University of Delaware’s James Corbett and colleagues shows this week. The soot usually produced by cargo ships is the major concern, as these black carbon particles absorb more heat from sunlight. When they land on ice and snow, soot particles also reduce the amount of solar energy reflected back out into space. “Ships operating in or near the Arctic use advanced diesel engines that release black carbon into one of the most sensitive regions for climate change,” Corbett said.

These particles could magnify the global warming effect of the ships’ exhausts by around one-fifth to four-fifths, Corbett’s team says. That’s important because the scientists estimate that by 2050 the amount of sea traffic passing through the Arctic could be greater than the amount that passes through the major Suez canal route in Egypt this year.
If the Arctic Ocean continues to warm, new shipping lanes could emerge at the top of the world, as shown in these scenarios. An increase in shipping under current pollution controls in the Arctic could further accelerate warming. Figure courtesy of Prof. James Corbett, University of Delaware; published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, Vol. 10, 2010.

If the Arctic Ocean continues to warm, new shipping lanes could emerge at the top of the world, as shown in these scenarios. An increase in shipping under current pollution controls in the Arctic could further accelerate warming. Figure courtesy of Prof. James Corbett, University of Delaware; published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, Vol. 10, 2010.

However, sea traffic through the Arctic could also help reduce CO2 emissions, because the route is shorter than those currently used, with traffic through the eastern side halving fuel use. Consequently, the scientists recommend more research on the balance between this benefit and the effects of the black carbon “forcer”. “To understand the value of addressing short-lived climate forcers from shipping, you need to know the impacts of these emissions, the feasibility and availability of technologies that could be put in place to reduce these impacts, and then engage the policy-making community to debate the evidence and agree on a plan,” Corbett said.

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