Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Scientists say Antarctic ice sheet is thinning

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Texas-sized piece of the Antarctic ice sheet is thinning, possibly due to global warming, and could cause the world's oceans to rise significantly, polar ice experts said on Wednesday.

They said "surprisingly rapid changes" were occurring in Antarctica's Amundsen Sea Embayment, which faces the southern Pacific Ocean, but that more study was needed to know how fast it was melting and how much it could cause the sea level to rise.

The warning came in a joint statement issued at the end of a conference of U.S. and European polar ice experts at the University of Texas in Austin.

The scientists blamed the melting ice on changing winds around Antarctica that they said were causing warmer waters to flow beneath ice shelves.

The wind change, they said, appeared to be the result of several factors, including global warming, ozone depletion in the atmosphere and natural variability.

The thinning in the two-mile-(3.2-km)- thick ice shelf is being observed mostly from satellites, but it is not known how much ice has been lost because data is difficult to obtain on the remote ice shelves, they said.

Study is focusing on the Amundsen Sea Embayment because it has been melting quickly and holds enough water to raise world sea levels six meters, or close to 20 feet, the scientists said

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Climate Change: Coastal Mega-Cities in for a Bumpy Ride

by Srabani Roy

NEW YORK - About 643 million people, or one-tenth of the world’s population, who live in low lying coastal areas are at great risk of oceans-related impacts of climate change, according to a global research study to be released next month.The study, by researchers at Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Sciences Information Network and the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, is the first of its kind. The researchers identified populations, particularly urban populations, at greatest risk from rising sea levels and more intense storms due to climate change.

0328 07“Of the more than 180 countries with populations in the low-elevation coastal zone, 130 of them — about 70 percent — have their largest urban area extending into that zone,” said Bridget Andersen, a research associate at CIESIN, in a statement.

“Furthermore, the world’s largest cities — those with more than five million residents — have on average one-fifth of their population and one-sixth of their land area within this coastal zone.”

The study, which will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Environment and Urbanization, assesses the risks to populations and urban settlements along coastal areas that are less than 10 meters above sea level, referred to as the low-elevation coastal zone, or LECZ. Although globally this zone accounts for only two percent of the world’s land area, it contains 10 percent of the world’s population and 13 percent of the world’s urban population, the study found.

The 10 countries with the largest number of people living in this vulnerable, low-elevation zone, include in descending order: China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, the United States, Thailand and the Philippines.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Global Warming Study Warns of Vanishing Climates

by James Randerson from the Guardian

By the end of the century up to two fifths of the land surface of the Earth will have a hotter climate unlike anything that currently exists, according to a study that predicts the effects of global warming on local and regional climates. And in the worst case scenario, the climatic conditions on another 48% of the land surface will no longer exist on the planet at all.The changes - which will have a devastating affect on biodiversity hotspots such as the Amazonian and Indonesian rainforests - will wipe out numerous species that are unable to move to stay within their preferred climate range. These species will either have to evolve rapidly or die.

“There is a real problem for conservation biologists,” said the lead author, John Williams, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “How do you conserve the biological diversity of these entire systems if the physical environment is changing and potentially disappearing?”

Studies already suggest that the ranges of species are shifting towards the poles at around six kilometers a decade, but what will happen when the rate of change intensifies?

His team used emissions scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the international scientific group that advises policymakers - to predict where changes in temperature and precipitation will occur.

As is already happening, the analysis predicts that as the planet warms climate zones will move north and south towards the poles. To work out the significance of these changes, the team compared them with the climate variation that occurs naturally. They attach greater weight to changes in regions that are relatively stable. This suggests that some of the worst impacts will happen in tropical and subtropical regions as they shift to new climatic conditions not currently seen.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Antarctic melting may be speeding up

From Reuters by Michael Byrnes

HOBART (Reuters) - Rising sea levels and melting polar ice-sheets are at upper limits of projections, leaving some human population centers already unable to cope, top world scientists say as they analyze latest satellite data.

A United Nations report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in February projected sea level gains of 18-59 centimeters (7-23 inches) this century from temperature rises of 1.8-4.0 Celsius (3.2-7.8 Fahrenheit).

"Observations are in the very upper edge of the projections," leading Australian marine scientist John Church told Reuters.

"I feel that we're getting uncomfortably close to threshold," said Church, of Australia's CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research said.

Past this level, parts of the Antarctic and Greenland would approach a virtually irreversible melting that would produce sea level rises of meters, he said.

There has been no repeat in the Antarctic of the 2002 break-up of part of the Larsen ice shelf that created a 500 billion ton iceberg as big as Luxembourg.

But the Antarctic Peninsula is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, and glaciers are in massive retreat.

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Global Warming Activists Try to Stir Americans to Change

From the San Francisco Chronicle by Robert Collier

WASHINGTON - Washington is suddenly debating global warming this week, but the big challenge remains outside the Beltway -- coaxing Americans to adopt new technologies and change their energy-guzzling lifestyles.

A crowd gathers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 20, 2007, during a rally against global warming. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
While former Vice President Al Gore prodded Congress to act Wednesday, activists in the Bay Area and nationwide were preparing a pressure campaign that they hope will boost their movement's public support, which recent opinion polls show to be respectable yet hardly overwhelming.

Environmentalists say the attention brought by Gore and his Oscar-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," is a godsend.

"Things are changing fast, and most people in Washington believe that there's more than enough public support now to enact federal legislation," said David Hawkins, director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Recent polls, however, suggest that public sentiment is soft.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007


A little more insight into the consequences of attempting to reduce oil dependence. From the World Watch Institute/Earth Policy News

World May Be Facing Highest Grain Prices in History

Lester R. Brown

Investment in fuel ethanol distilleries has soared since the late-2005 oil price hikes, but data collection in this fast-changing sector has fallen behind. Because of inadequate data collection on the number of new plants under construction, the quantity of grain that will be needed for fuel ethanol distilleries has been vastly understated. Farmers, feeders, food processors, ethanol investors, and grain-importing countries are basing decisions on incomplete data.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects that distilleries will require only 60 million tons of corn from the 2008 harvest. But here at the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), we estimate that distilleries will need 139 million tons—more than twice as much. If the EPI estimate is at all close to the mark, the emerging competition between cars and people for grain will likely drive world grain prices to levels never seen before. The key questions are: How high will grain prices rise? When will the crunch come? And what will be the worldwide effect of rising food prices?

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Material Shows Weakening of Climate Reports

From the New York Times
by Andrew C. Revkin / Matthew L. Wald

WASHINGTON — A House committee released documents Monday that showed hundreds of instances in which a White House official who was previously an oil industry lobbyist edited government climate reports to play up uncertainty of a human role in global warming or play down evidence of such a role.

In a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the official, Philip A. Cooney, who left government in 2005, defended the changes he had made in government reports over several years. Mr. Cooney said the editing was part of the normal White House review process and reflected findings in a climate report written for President Bush by the National Academy of Sciences in 2001.

They were the first public statements on the issue by Mr. Cooney, the former chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Before joining the White House, he was the “climate team leader” for the American Petroleum Institute, the main industry lobby.

He was hired by Exxon Mobil after resigning in 2005 following reports on the editing in The New York Times. The White House said his resignation was not related to the disclosures.

Mr. Cooney said his past work opposing restrictions on heat-trapping gases for the oil industry had had no bearing on his actions once he joined the White House. “When I came to the White House,” he testified, “my sole loyalties were to the president and his administration.”

Mr. Cooney, who has no scientific background, said he had based his editing and recommendations on what he had seen in good faith as the “most authoritative and current views of the state of scientific knowledge.”

Mr. Cooney was defended by James L. Connaughton, chairman of the environmental council and his former boss.

The hearing was part of an investigation, begun under the committee’s Republican chairman last year, into accusations of political interference in climate science by the Bush administration.It became a heated and largely partisan tug of war over the appropriate role of scientists and political appointees in framing how the government conveys information on global warming.

There's more, hit the link

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ethanol's Growing List of Enemies

There are lots of reasons that bethanol isn't either a global warming solution, nor a good idea economically, at least in the US or produced from corn.
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As demand for the alternative fuel drives corn prices up, an unlikely assortment of groups are uniting with the hopes of cutting government support

by Moira Herbst

Paul Hitch has spent his entire life raising cattle and hogs on a stretch of the Oklahoma panhandle he says is "flat as a billiard table." His great-grandfather started the ranch in 1884, before Oklahoma was a state, and now Hitch, 63, is preparing to pass the family business on to his two sons.

But he worries that they'll face mounting pressures in the industry, particularly because of the soaring price for corn, which the business depends on to feed the livestock. In the past year, corn prices have doubled as demand from ethanol producers has surged.

"This ethanol binge is insane," says Hitch, who's president-elect of the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA). "This talk about energy independence and wrapping yourself in the flag and singing God Bless America—all that's going to come at a severe cost to another part of the economy."

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Asian rivers top WWF risk list from pollution, climate change

by William French

GENEVA (AFP) - Five rivers in Asia serving over 870 million people are among the most threatened in the world, as dams, water extraction and climate change all take their toll, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said on Tuesday

The Yangtze, Salween-Nu, Indus, Ganges and Mekong-Lancang rivers make up half of the WWF's "top ten" most threatened river basins, which "either already suffer most grievously under the weight of these threats or are bracing for the heaviest impacts," the organisation said.

Also on the list are the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo and La Plata in Latin America, the Danube in central Europe, the Nile-Lake Victoria in Africa and the Murray-Darling in Australia.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Collapse of Arctic Sea Ice 'Has Reached Tipping-Point'

From the Independent/UK by Steve Connor

A catastrophic collapse of the Arctic sea ice could lead to radical climate changes in the northern hemisphere according to scientists who warn that the rapid melting is at a "tipping point" beyond which it may not recover.

The scientists attribute the loss of some 38,000 square miles of sea ice - an area the size of Alaska - to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as well as to natural variability in Arctic ice.

Ever since satellite measurements of the Arctic sea ice began in 1979, the surface area covered by summer sea ice has retreated from the long-term average. This has increased the rate of coastal erosion from Alaska to Siberia and caused problems for polar bears, which rely on sea ice for hunting seals.

However, in recent years the rate of melting has accelerated and the sea ice is showing signs of not recovering even during the cold, dark months of the Arctic winter. This has led to even less sea ice at the start of the summer melting season.

Mark Serreze, a senior glaciologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said the world was heading towards a situation where the Arctic will soon be almost totally ice-free during summer, which could have a dramatic impact on weather patterns across the northern hemisphere.

"When the ice thins to a vulnerable state, the bottom will drop out and we may quickly move into a new, seasonally ice-free state of the Arctic," Dr Serreze said.

"I think there is some evidence that we may have reached that tipping point, and the impacts will not be confined to the Arctic region," he said.

Some studies have linked the loss of sea ice in the Arctic to changes in atmospheric weather patterns that influence such things as rainfall in southern and western Europe and the amount of snow in the Rocky Mountains of the American Midwest.

The Arctic is one of the fastest warming regions on Earth and scientists fear that temperatures could rise even faster once sea ice melts to expose dark ocean, which absorbs heat more easily without its reflective cap of ice.

"While the Arctic is losing a great deal of ice in the summer months, it now seems that it also is regenerating less ice in the winter. With this increasing vulnerability, a kick to the system just from natural climate fluctuations could send it into a tailspin," Dr Serreze said.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, changing wind patterns flushed much of the thick sea ice out of the Arctic Ocean and into the North Atlantic, where it drifted south and melted away.

A thinner layer of young ice formed in its place, which more readily melts during the warmer, summer months - leading to the appearance of a greater area of open water that absorbs sunlight and heat. The summer sea ice reached an all-time minimum in September 2005, with September 2006 the second lowest.

"This ice-flushing even could be a small-scale analogue of the sort of kick that could invoke rapid collapse, or it could have been the kick itself. At this point, I don't think we really know," Dr Serreze said.

Julienne Stroeve from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado said that the winter sea ice failed again this year to recover fully.

"The freeze-up this year was again delayed, and ice extents from October through to December set new record lows during the satellite era," she said.

Computer models suggest that summer sea ice could disappear altogether by 2080. Some forecasts even predict an ice-free summer by 2040.

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Winter warmest on record worldwide

From AP By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON - This winter was the warmest on record worldwide, the government said Thursday in the latest worrisome report focusing on changing climate. The report comes just over a month after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said global warming is very likely caused by human actions and is so severe it will continue for centuries.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the combined land and ocean temperatures for December through February were 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit above average for the period since record keeping began in 1880.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Renewing a Call to Act Against Climate Change

From the New York Times by Felicity Burger

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Some are born earnest, some achieve earnestness, and some have earnestness thrust upon them. Bill McKibben qualifies for inclusion in at least two of these wedges of humanity.

In 1989, at the age of 28, he achieved earnestness of a dour, frowning sort as one of the first laymen to warn of global warming in his book “The End of Nature.” In the ensuing 18 years, he said recently while cross-country skiing in the woods near his home, he felt caught in a bad dream, forever warning heedless people of a monster in their midst.

Now, when Mr. McKibben is 46, his role as the philosopher-impresario of the program of climate-change rallies called Step It Up, has thrust new earnestness upon him. This time with a smile.

Mr. McKibben’s title — scholar in residence at Middlebury College — seems far too passive to encompass his current frenetic pace. His online call for locally inspired, locally run demonstrations on April 14 has generated plans for a wave of small protests under the Step It Up banner — 870 and counting, in 49 states (not South Dakota) — to walk, jog, march, ski, swim, talk, sing, pray and party around the idea of cutting national emissions of heat-trapping gases 80 percent by 2050.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

China About to Pass US as World's Top Generator of Greenhouse Gases

From the San Francisco Chronicle

by Robert Collier

Far more than previously acknowledged, the battle against global warming will be won or lost in China, even more so than in the West, new data show.

A report released last week by Beijing authorities indicated that as its economy continues to expand at a red-hot pace, China is highly likely to overtake the United States this year or in 2008 as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

This information, along with data from the International Energy Agency, the Paris-based alliance of oil importing nations, also revealed that China's greenhouse gas emissions have recently been growing by a total amount much greater than that of all industrialized nations put together.

"The magnitude of what's happening in China threatens to wipe out what's happening internationally," said David Fridley, leader of the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"Today's global warming problem has been caused mainly by us in the West, with the cumulative (carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere, but China is contributing to the global warming problem of tomorrow."

New statistics released in Beijing on Wednesday by China's National Bureau of Statistics show that China's consumption of fossil fuels rose in 2006 by 9.3 percent, about the same rate as in previous years -- and about eight times higher than the U.S. increase of 1.2 percent.

While China's total greenhouse gas emissions were only 42 percent of the U.S. level in 2001, they had soared to an estimated 97 percent of the American level by 2006.

"The new data are not encouraging," said Yang Fuqiang, China director for the Energy Foundation, a San Francisco organization that works extensively with Lawrence Berkeley scientists and the Chinese government on energy-saving programs. "China will overtake the United States much faster than expected as the No. 1 emitter."

China's top environmental official admitted Wednesday that the results show the government's environment agenda of the past few years has been ineffective.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

U.S. Predicting Steady Increase for Emissions

Published on Saturday, March 3, 2007 by the New York Times
U.S. Predicting Steady Increase for Emissions
by Andrew C. Revkin

The Bush administration estimates that emissions by the United States of gases that contribute to global warming will grow nearly as fast through the next decade as they did the previous decade, according to a long-delayed report being completed for the United Nations.

The document, the United States Climate Action Report, emphasizes that the projections show progress toward a goal Mr. Bush laid out in a 2002 speech: that emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases grow at a slower rate than the economy. Since that speech, he has repeated his commitment to lessening “greenhouse gas intensity” without imposing formal limits on the gases.

Kristen A. Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House on environmental matters, said on Friday, “The Climate Action Report will show that the president’s portfolio of actions addressing climate change and his unparalleled financial commitments are working.”

But when shown the report, an assortment of experts on climate trends and policy described the projected emissions as unacceptable given the rising evidence of risks from unabated global warming.

“As governor of Texas and as a candidate, the president supported mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions,” said David W. Conover, who directed the administration’s Climate Change Technology Program until February 2006 and is now counsel to the National Commission on Energy Policy, a nonpartisan research group that supports limits on gases. “When he announced his voluntary greenhouse-gas intensity reduction goal in 2002, he said it would be re-evaluated in light of scientific developments. The science now clearly calls for a mandatory program that establishes a price for greenhouse-gas emissions.”

According to the new report, the administration’s climate policy will result in emissions growing 11 percent in 2012 from 2002. In the previous decade, emissions grew at a rate of 11.6 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report also contains sections describing growing risks to water supplies, coasts and ecosystems around the United States from the anticipated temperature and precipitation changes driven by the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Drafts of the report were provided to The New York Times by a government employee at the request of a reporter. The employee did not say why this was done, but other officials involved with producing it said they have been frustrated with the slow pace of its preparation. It was due more than one year ago.

The report arrives at a moment when advocates of controls are winning new support in statehouses and Congress, not to mention Hollywood, where former Vice President Al Gore’s cautionary documentary on the subject, “An Inconvenient Truth,” just won an Academy Award. Five western governors have just announced plans to create a program to cap and then trade carbon-dioxide emissions. And on Capitol Hill, half a dozen bills have been introduced to curb emissions, with more expected.

Ms. Hellmer defended Mr. Bush’s climate policy, saying the president was committed to actions, like moderating gasoline use and researching alternative energy, that limited climate risks while also increasing the country’s energy and national security. She said Mr. Bush remained satisfied with voluntary measures to slow emissions.

Myron Ebell, who directs climate and energy policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a group aligned with industries fighting curbs on greenhouse gases, said Mr. Bush was right to acknowledge the inevitability of growing emissions in a country with a growing population and economy. Mr. Ebell added that the United States was doing better at slowing emissions than many countries that had joined the Kyoto Protocol, the first binding international treaty limiting such gases.

“Since 1990, for every 1 percent increase in emissions the economy has grown about 3 percent,” Mr. Ebell said. “That’s good, and it’s better than the European Union’s performance.”

Several environmental campaigners said there was no real distinction between Mr. Bush’s target and “business as usual,” adding that such mild steps were unacceptable given recent findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other research groups tying recent warming more firmly than ever to smokestack and tailpipe gases.

“If you set the hurdle one inch above the ground you can’t fail to clear it,” said David D. Doniger, the director of climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has long criticized the administration and sought binding cuts in greenhouse gases.

The report is the fourth in a series produced periodically by countries that are parties to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, a treaty signed by the first President Bush. It is a self-generated summary of climate-related trends and actions, including inventories of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, research on impacts of climate change, and policies to limit climate risks and emissions.

The last such report, completed in 2002, put the administration in something of a bind because it listed many harmful or costly projected impacts from human-caused warming. Environmental groups used those findings to press President Bush to seek mandatory caps on greenhouse gases, while foes of such restrictions criticized the findings and criticized the administration for letting them stay in the document.

While that report was approved by senior White House and State Department officials, Mr. Bush quickly distanced himself from it, saying it was “put out by the bureaucracy.”

The new report has been bogged down for nearly two years. In April 2005, the State Department published a notice in the Federal Register saying it would be released for public comment that summer.

Several government officials and scientists involved with preparing or reviewing parts of the report said that the recent departures of several senior staff members running the administration’s climate research program delayed its completion and no replacements have been named. The delays in finishing the report come even as Mr. Bush has elevated global warming higher on his list of concerns. This year, for the first time since he took office in 2001, he touched on “global climate change” in the State of the Union Message, calling it a “serious challenge.”

The draft report contains fresh projections of significant effects of human-caused warming on the environment and resources of the United States and emphasized the need to increase the country’s capacity to adapt to impending changes.

Drought, particularly, will become a persistent threat, it said: “Warmer temperatures expected with increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are expected to exacerbate present drought risks in the United States by increasing the rate of evaporation.”

Water supplies in the Northwest and Southwest are also at risk. “Much of the water used by people in the western United States comes from snow melt,” the report said. “And a large fraction of the traditionally snow-covered areas of this region has experienced a decline in spring snow pack, especially since mid-century, despite increases in winter precipitation in many places.” Animal and plant species face risks as climate zones shift but urbanized regions prevent ecosystems from shifting as well, according to the draft report.

“Because changes in the climate system are likely to persist into the future regardless of emissions mitigation, adaptation is an essential response for future protection of climate-sensitive ecosystems,” it said.

© Copyright 2007 New York Times

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Bush Plan does nothing

This from Reuters. Estimates of emissions during the next ten years in US show same rate as previous ten years. That's what you call grabbing the bull by the horns, as they say in Texas.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Polar year starts with worries of rising seas

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent for Reuters

OSLO (Reuters) - More than 60 nations started the biggest
scientific investigation of the Arctic and Antarctic on
Thursday amid new evidence that global warming is thawing polar
ice and raising sea levels.

About 3,000 children made slushy snowmen and waved bannerssaying "give us back the winter" in Oslo, scientists met in Paris and other experts gathered on a research vessel in CapeTown to mark the start of International Polar Year (IPY).

"The polar year is important for everyone on the planet,"
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters when
asked if people living in places such as Africa or Asia should
be interested in science at the icy ends of the earth.

"We are seeing climate change most clearly in the polar areas and research there can give us decisive knowledge in the fight against global warming," he said.

During the U.N.-backed year, about 50,000 experts will be
involved in 228 projects such as studying marine life in the
Antarctic, mapping how winds carry pollutants to the Arctic, or
examining the health of people, polar bears or penguins.

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