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Why is the arctic warming faster than the rest of the world? What will the impacts on the United States be? Is Alaska already being affected? Answers to these frequently asked questions can be found below.
The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) is an international project to collect and evaluate knowledge on climate variability, global warming, and increased UV radiation in the Arctic and their effects on the Arctic region, its ecosystems and communities. The final ACIA will consist of three reports: a scientific report, a synthesis report, and a policy report.
The science report will detail the current state of scientific knowledge concerning climate change and its effects in the arctic. The synthesis report will be a comprehensive, but less detailed, review of the science report. The policy report will provide policy recommendations for governments working together to reduce the adverse effects of global warming.
Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) have applauded the efforts of the scientists responsible for this new report that "reveals dire consequences of human caused global warming in the Arctic." Read the press release Lieberman, McCain Highlight New Report Showing Dire Consequences of Global Warming .
The ACIA was launched in 2000 and has been conducted as a joint initiative between the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC). The ACIA is managed through its Secretariat office, located at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Funding has been provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
More than 300 scientists and six arctic indigenous peoples’ organizations have participated in preparing the reports. Another 225 additional researchers not directly affiliated with the ACIA served as peer-reviewers for the scientific and synthesis reports to ensure scientific quality and accuracy.
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental organization (whose members include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States) that collaborates to address the common concerns and challenges faced by the Arctic governments and the people of the Arctic. For more information, see the Arctic Council website .
The International Arctic Science Committee is a non-governmental organization that facilitates cooperation in all aspects of arctic research. For more information, see the International Arctic Science Committee website .
The ACIA synthesis and scientific reports was released during the ACIA International Scientific Symposium in Reykjavik, Iceland, November 9th-12th 2004. The release of the policy report has been scheduled for November 24th. For more information, see the ACIA website.
For years, climate scientists have believed that the Artic would likely be one of the first regions to be affected by global warming and would likely experience greater warming than the rest of the world. Recent evidence has validated these concerns. While the world as a whole warmed about 1oF over the entire 20th century, parts of the Arctic have warmed by 4-5oF just since the 1950s.
The Arctic continues to warm at a rate about twice as fast as rest of the world. Scientists, as well as the indigenous people of the Arctic, have noticed dramatic changes in the Arctic environment that has affected ecosystems and wildlife, human settlements and infrastructure, and the way of life of indigenous peoples.
For these reasons, the ACIA was undertaken to evaluate whether these changes are caused by human activities; how Arctic climate change may affect climate change in the rest of the world; and the risks of continued global warming for the Arctic, its people, and its ecosystems and wildlife.
Climate change in the Arctic is expected to affect other parts of the world. The melting of ice masses in the Arctic could contribute significantly to global sea-level rise, and the addition of that fresh water to the salty oceans could change global ocean circulation patterns. Arctic tundra also stores huge amounts of carbon, which could be released to the atmosphere during a thaw, further enhancing the greenhouse effect and global warming.
Some of these impacts are detailed in our report, “Observed Impacts of Climate Change on Natural Systems in the United States ” by Camille Parmesan of and Hector Galbraith, released on November 10, 2004. Observed impacts in Alaska include the northward migration of treelines, increased melting of permafrost and the release of carbon dioxide from the thawing tundra, and changes in competition between species such as the arctic and red fox.
Additionial research on environmental impacts from global warming:
The rapid warming that has been observed in the Arctic and is projected to continue well into the future is caused by a number of factors, but one of the most important is the so-called “ice-albedo feedback.” It is uncertain what percentage of the observed warming is explained by the ice-albedo feedback, because there are other possible influences, such as natural variability in Arctic temperatures and the transport of heat to the Arctic by the oceans.
In addition to increasing global temperatures, global warming contributes to the melting of polar ice over the Arctic Ocean and land surfaces. Such ice masses have a high albedo, meaning they reflect more incoming solar radiation than many other surfaces. As the Arctic warms and the ice melts, the uncovered land or water has a lower albedo, or a lower reflectivity. As a result, more solar radiation is absorbed at the surface, which amplifies the warming effect.
The ACIA will provide a valuable scientific analysis of climate change in the Arctic region and how the Arctic interacts with the global climate. Undoubtedly, the ACIA will call attention to the physical changes that have and are occurring in the Arctic and their effects on the Arctic’s indigenous peoples as well as its natural resources.
The ACIA will also be the primary assessment of possible future consequences of climate change. It explores adaptation, mitigation, and research options for limiting the adverse consequences of climate change and will help improve scientific understanding of Arctic and global climate change.