Monday, July 14, 2008

Arctic research team evacuates as ice floe melts

By Moscow Correspondent Scott Bevan

ABC News Online, Posted 1 hour 15 minutes ago
Updated 1 hour 8 minutes ago

A research team working on a drifting ice floe in the Arctic has had first-hand experience of the perils of global warming.

The researchers are being evacuated from the research station because the ice under their laboratory is melting faster than expected.

Since September last year, 20 Russian scientists have lived and worked on what's known as 'North Pole 35'.

The rather clinical name belies the natural setting for the research station - a drifting ice floe in the Arctic.

From this base, the scientists have been conducting a range of experiments, including monitoring pollution levels and the effects of climate change.

They were meant to stay on the floe for about a year. But after 10 months' research, the team came up with some data that really hit home; the ice they were based on was disappearing very rapidly.

Professor Arkady Tishkov is an Arctic expert from the Institute of Geography in Moscow.

"This work of ours was about three kilometres by five kilometres. Now [it is] only 300 metres by 600 metres. It is not enough," he said.

With the ice floe a little more than a tenth of the size it was less than a year ago, and the station drifting into an area with warmer currents, the scientists concluded it was time to leave.

Vladimir Sokolov is from the Saint Petersburg-based Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, which is in charge of the North Pole 35 station.

"There is nothing presently that threatens the safety of the people and they would have been safe for quite a while," he said.

"But if we let time drag on for a month, the ice under the station would have started collapsing. That's why we're getting them off."

On Sunday, two ships began evacuating the scientists and their equipment from the floe, which is near the Spitsbergen Islands.

The evacuation operation is expected to take three to four days.

Professor Tishkov says this incident gives an indication of what is happening to the thickness of the ice cover across the Arctic.

"We have in the centre of Arctic, sea ice four and more metres, now only two metres," he said.

"And the change has [affected] not only ice condition. The sea water in the Arctic Sea is more warm."

The scientists from North Pole 35 are to be brought back to the Russian Arctic port of Murmansk.

Then they will begin collating their research and their life experiences to reach some conclusions as to whether the globe is floating on thin ice when it comes to climate change.

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