Arctic warning

Posted: 5 February 2001

Over the centuries many explorers have died battling the icy wastes which stretch two thousand miles across the North Pole, but now it's the Arctic pack ice that faces defeat at the hands of man. Global warning, due largely to greenhouse gases, is taking its toll.

In Correspondent, Julian O'Halloran reports from Alaska on the changes that are affecting the region and it's inhabitants. Testament to the growing concerns comes from those gauging and living with the problem. The Arctic ice cover could be gone as a year-round feature by the end of the next century, says climate scientist Buster Welch.

Most talk of global warming has assumed a world-wide average rise of 1 to 2 degrees centigrade next century a change that would bring a trail of extreme and destructive weather to all areas. Significantly, Julian O'Halloran reports that much of the far north is already heating at 1 degree centigrade per decade.

The problem is far from abstract for the Eskimos that people the land, as Caleb Pungowiyi explains. "The Eskimos hunting season has already been cut by half by the retreat of the ice" he tells Julian. Professor Gunter Weller, Alaska's leading climate scientist, and Buster Welch both emphasise the consequences of the problem on a world-wide scale. Returning to a glacier he first visited 30 years ago, Weller finds that it has shrunk by more than 15 per cent. Such a rapid process may contribute to a rise in sea level of some two feet in the next hundred years.

With footage from above and below the ice packs, the programme captures the clearly visible signs of an impending catastrophe.

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