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Rapid melting of Arctic sea-ice prompts further urgency for IPY polar research

Last week's reports on rapidly melting Arctic sea-ice highlights the urgency of International Polar Year (2007-2008).

The launch of IPY on March 1 2007 will mark the onset of an internationally coordinated research campaign in both polar regions involving hundreds of projects from a wide range of scientific disciplines.

Dr David Carlson, Director of the International Polar Programme Office, which oversees IPY, says: “"Some projects are still awaiting funding decisions – time is short. It’s crucial for governments, institutions and the private sector to recognize the importance of what’s happening to the Arctic sea-ice as well as the ice and ecosystems at both poles and act now.”

“Failure to do so, will limit our understanding of these regions at a time when their impact on the rest of the planet is becoming more evident.”

A study by National Centre of Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado says the Arctic Ocean could be mostly open water in summer by 2040 — several decades earlier than previously expected.

This study, based on advanced climate models, shows the first evidence in a global model of abrupt downward steps in sea ice coverage.

Polar scientists compare these rapid changes in the physical system to rapid declines observed in some biological populations, so-called “tipping points”.

In its annual Statement of the Status of the Global Climate, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said 2006 was shaping up to be the sixth warmest year on record and that average sea-ice extent for the entire month of September was 5.9 million km² – the second lowest since measurements began more than 25 years ago.

Scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, also in Boulder, and from around the world have watched during October and November as the 2006 Arctic sea ice showed a new and worrisome pattern – delayed re-freezing.

Arctic sea-ice is crucial for the well-being of Arctic marine ecosystems, indigenous populations and fauna but also holds massive implications for the rest of humanity through its influence on global heating patterns and ocean circulations.

IPY is co-sponsored by WMO and the International Council for Science (ICSU).

Rhian A Salmon | alfa
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