Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wilkins Ice Shelf collapse sparks worldwide concerns

By Simon Santow for AM

ABC News Online, Posted Tue Apr 7

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has used a conference on the future of Antarctica to warn the world that more needs to be done to combat climate change.

Her warning comes as scientists worry about the breaking away of the Wilkins Ice Shelf and concern about the impact of tourism on one of the world's most unspoilt regions.

Antarctica is often described as beautiful, a continent so remote and unspoilt it stands in contrast to much of the rest of the world.

But for many it is also a barometer of what rising temperatures are doing to the planet.

Speaking at a conference in Washington, Senator Clinton says the collapse of the ice bridge that holds the Wilkins Ice Shelf is a reminder that global warming has already had enormous affects on the planet.

"We have no time to lose in tackling this crisis," she said.

Listening to her were representatives of the nations who have signed the Antarctic Treaty over the past 50 years, including Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

Senator Clinton hailed the agreement as proof that working together is better than nations competing against each other.

"The treaty is a blueprint for the kind of international cooperation that will be needed more and more to address the challenges of the 21st century and it is an example of smart power at its best," she said.

Steve Campbell from Greenpeace says there is too much talking and not enough action when it comes to ensuring the continent's future and beyond.

"If the collapse of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in the last few days is not a huge wake-up call for our political leaders at a global level, I really don't know what is," he said.

"[It's] time for the international community to bite the bullet and come to the table in international climate negotiations and make sure that developed countries agree to deep emissions reductions, so we can start to really help to solve the climate crisis at the global level."

Arctic tussle

Experts on the Arctic have been observers at the Antarctic Treaty Conference.

The Arctic is not as harmonious as Antarctica. Periodically, nations such as Canada, the US and Russia tussle over rights to resources.

And it seems that getting access to the area is likely to get easier in the future.

Research scientist Walt Meier, from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre at the University of Colorado, says the Arctic melt appears unstoppable.

"What we're seeing is that more and more, in recent years, that ice cover is getting thinner and thinner and really becoming dominated by the thinner, younger ice that has grown just since the previous summer, instead of the older, thicker ice that has been around for several years," he said.

"We've seen kind of a steady decline in the thicker ice types but the last couple of years, particularly, we've seen a real steep drop off in the older ice, ice that's older than two years old, which used to cover 30 per cent of the Arctic Ocean, the total ice at the end of winter.

"Even as late as 2006, it covered about 20 per cent and now we're down below 10 per cent."

No comments: