The melting of the North and South Poles is accelerating

[Below is a translation from a new 194-page Atlas recently published by *Le Monde diplomatique*, these two pages are devoted to describing what has been learned recently about the effects of global warming on the northern and southern ice caps.[1] -- The new Atlas du Monde diplomatique (a previous edition was published in 2003, but the the 2006 edition is entirely new), which aims to reveal "the relations and interactions among phenomena that are situated in different spheres," sells for 12 euros (ISSN 0026-9395) and is divided into five sections: -- (1) The Planet in Danger (28 maps with accompanying charts and text); -- (2) A New Geopolitics (35 maps with accompanying charts and text); -- (3) Globalization, Winners and Losers (25 maps with accompanying charts and text); -- (4) Those Persistent Conflicts
(48 maps with accompanying charts and text); -- (5) Asia's Irresistible Ascent (38 maps with accompanying charts and text). -- *L'Atlas du Monde diplomatique* is edited by Alain Gresh, Jean Radvanyi, Philippe Rekacewicz, Catherine Samary, and Dominique Vidal, with the collaboration of some 70 specialists. -- Copies can be ordered by calling 011 33 344 318 048. --Mark]


The Planet in Danger


By Frédéric Durand

** Climate warming does not affect the planet uniformly. Most models expect it to be greater in the northern hemisphere. For a rise of 2 degrees Centigrade, the Arctic zone could warm up twice or three times as much. The southern hemisphere, less affected, is nevertheless also expected to be disturbed. **

L'Atlas du Monde diplomatique (2006) Pages 10-11

The North Pole is already showing marked signs of change. Apart from seasonal and yearly variation that is considerable, the area covered by the ice field is estimated to have diminished by 10% in 30 years, and the thickness of the ice field is thought to be down 40%. By the end of the 21st century, it may be cut in half.

Some would like to see postive aspects in these developments, particularly the opening of the northern passages for marine transport or an easier access to the hydrocarbons of the Great American North and Siberia, which constitute 40% of world reserves. But these advantages are meager compared to the negative impacts. In the short term, the most serious of these will doubtless be the disturbance of the Gulf Stream. Preliminary investigations show its flow to have declined by 20% between 1950 and 2000. This may bring about a temporary period of sharply colder temperatures in Europe.

More structurally, the melting is expected to cause an acceleration of warming by reducing the level of refraction of solar radiation, which is 80% for ice, as opposed to 30% for bare soil and 7% for the oceans. This is inducing, in some places, a melting of the permafrost (permanently frozen soil), on which are constructed buildings and infrastructures and which contains enormous quanitites of methane. Confronted by such threats, the Council of the Arctic, which brings together the United States, Canada, and Russia, has shown itself to be incapable of the most minimal action. By itself, the melting of the polar ice field does not bring about a rise in ocean levels, to the extent that the ice is already floating on the water. On the other hand, the progressive melting of the Greenland ice sheet as well as glaciers on land could contribute significantly to this. Measurements by the Topex-Poseidon satellite indicate at present a rise of sea level by 2.4mm per year. This is expected to produce a rise of at least 25cm by the beginning of the 22nd century, but more and more forecasts are envisioning a rise of one meter, or even several meters should the melting of certain Antarctic regions be verified. Beyond the uncertainties, it is thought that a third of this phenomenon is due to the simple expansion of the oceans as a result of warming, with another third coming from the melting of glaciers. For the rest, recent studies indicate that the South Pole may today be contributing 15%.


Until recently, in fact, researchers thought that only the Antarctic peninsula was affected. It warmed by 3 degrees Centigrade between 1974 and 2000, and it is from this region that the vast Larsen platform broke off in 2002. If all the peninsula's ice melted, the level of water would rise by an additional 45 cm. However, it is not directly linked to the continental ice cap, which until recently was considered to be stable and immune from the influence of warming for at least a century. But in October 2004 NASA revealed that certain parts of the continent may warm by more than 3.5 degrees Centigrade between now and 2050, while in December 2004 a British Antarctic Survey team observed that the western part of Antarctica was losing 250 cubic kilometers of ice per year. This is still a limited quantity, but should it accelerate the water from this region could induce a sea-level rise of 8 meters! For the moment, only eastern Antarctica, by far the most massive part (the equivalent of a sea-level rise of 64 meters), appears to be spared.

Alongside this disturbing problem, the reduction of the Antarctic ice sheet may also lead to another major upheaval concerning aquatic fauna. Indeed, stocks of krill, a small shrimp that feeds on algae living beneath the ice, and which is at the heart of the sea's food chain, since squid, fish, and whales feed on it, are thought to have declined by 80% in the past 30 years. This phenomenon, combined with overfishing and the weakening of the coral reefs, undeniably constitutes an additional reason for concern.

--Frédéric Durand is maître de conférences at the University of Toulouse-II-Le Mirail and author of *La Jungle, la nation et le marché: Chronique indonésienne* (L'Atalante, 2001) ('The Jungle, the Nation, and the Market: Indonesian Chronicle').

[MAP 1] CLIMATIC WARMING OF THE ARCTIC REGION (Sources: Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), 1998, 2002, 2004; World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC); United States Energy Information Administration (EIA); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOIA); International Permafrost Association (IPA); *Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) Overview/Report* (Cambridge University Press, 2004); *Vital Arctic Graphics, People and Global Heritage on Our Last Wild Shores*
(UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 2005).

[MAP 2] WARMING OF ANTARCTICA EXPECTED BY 2050 (Source: National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), 2004.)

[CHARTS] (1) EXTENT OF THE ICE CAP, 1900-2000 (Millions of square km); (2) VARIATIONS IN THE SURFACE OF THE ICE CAP: DEPARTURES FROM THE MEAN, 1973-2004 (Sources: *Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) Overview/Report* (Cambridge University Press, 2004); Hadley Center, 2005; Office météorologique mondial (OMM), 2005; Met Office, 2005).


--Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA):

--International Arctic Science Committee (IASC):

--Arctic Council:

--Center for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo (Cicero):

--Laboratoire d'océanographie dynamique et de climatologie (Lodyc):

--Organisation météorologique mondiale (OMM):

--International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (Icarp):

Translated by Mark K. Jensen Associate Professor of French Department of Languages and Literatures Pacific Lutheran University Tacoma, WA 98447-0003 Phone: 253-535-7219 Home page: E-mail:


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