Friday, August 15, 2008

Climate Change Strikes Polar Bears, Salmon and Native Villages, Says Aleut Expert

Larry Merculieff is an Aleut native who was raised on St. Paul, one of the Pribilof Islands southwest off the Alaskan mainland, where the Aleut seal hunters have lived for more than 10,000 years. In a recent interview, he provided a dramatic account of the rapid changes taking place in the Arctic, the front lines of this planet's climate crisis.

From the Flint Journal:

The average Alaskan -- native and nonnative alike -- eats 420 pounds of wild food per year, [Merculieff] said, more than anywhere else in the U.S. "That means we have to maintain a profound and intimate relationship with our environment." Like the climate scientists, what disturbs Merculieff most isn't just the simple fact of change itself. It's the speed at which it is occurring.

And what does Larry Merculieff report as happening in our North?

  • As glaciers recede, inland water levels are dropping dramatically, and salmon are developing lesions from scraping their bodies on the rocks, while warm water parasites are attacking salmon populations.

  • Beaver populations are exploding as they follow the northward spread of tree species that once could not thrive so near the Arctic circle. Their dams and their urine, which may kill salmon eggs, are placing greater stress on salmon numbers.

  • The sea lion population has dropped 80 percent in the last 30 years. Otters are down 70 percent.

  • As the sea ice diminishes, coastal flooding is destroying native villages.

  • Polar bears are floating dead in the water, stranded on ice floes too far from shore.
It's important to heed the accounts of those who are experiencing the effects of climate change first-hand. For many people in more southern climes, the effects of climate change are still subtle, but for residents in the far North the signs are dramatic and all around them.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at almost twice the rate of that of the rest of the world. According to the multinational Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, at least half of the Arctic's summer sea ice will melt by century's end, and the Arctic region is likely to warm 4 to 7 degrees Celsius (7 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit) during the same time.

According to some scientists, the Arctic will be ice-free in the summers by 2010 -- just two years from now. (UPDATE 08/18/08: I missed this more recent news article that reports the Arctic Ocean ice cover has melted so rapidly in recent weeks that experts now say the ice loss by mid-September could exceed 2007's record-setting summer meltdown. Some researchers predict that the tipping point of an ice-free Arctic during the summer months could be reached as early as 2013. Read story.)

The climate crisis in the North puts polar bears in a precarious situation. Thirteen of the world’s 19 polar bear populations call the Canadian Arctic home. As a recent David Suzuki report finds, five populations show a decline in numbers. These populations, as well as others, could face continued decline in a region being transformed by global warming.


E McDougall said...

This posting is very disturbing. What is our government doing to prevent the ice from melting? More oil and gas fields in the north, taking away more ice and creating more global warming? We certainly have to do something. The "little guy" can't stop them from this, it has to be the big corporate giants that make a move. Come on people, what is more important, saving these animals (polar bears)so that our children can enjoy them, or making more money for the oil and gas companies? Everyone, please help these poor creatures that can't speak for themselves. What have they done to humanity that they deserve this type of ending?

ElectroRocket said...

Um, the ice isn't melting. Global Sea Ice Area is the highest it's been since 1979, since we started measuring it. Arctic ice grew 30% in the last year. Global temperature has dropped 1 degree in the last 10 years. Glaciers in Alaska and California are growing. Look it up.