The findings of a major assessment of the impacts of climate change in the Arctic were announced in November 2004. These were the result of four years of research by an international team of 300 scientists, and are unique in combining science-based observations with Arctic traditional knowledge (ACIA 2004). The full scientific report will be launched in 2005.
Among the major findings of the assessment are that:
- The Arctic is warming much more rapidly than previously known, at nearly twice the rate of the global average. In Alaska and western Canada, winter temperatures have increased as much as 3-4º C in the past 50 years. The region is projected to warm an additional 4-7º C by 2100.
- At least half of the current area of summer ice in the Arctic is projected to melt by the end of this century, along with a significant portion of the Greenland Ice Sheet (Figure 1). The Greenland melting will contribute to global sea-level rise - although the melting of ice already at sea will not.
- If the Arctic Ocean becomes ice-free in summer, polar bears and some seal species will be at high risk of extinction in the wild.
- Arctic Indigenous Peoples will face major economic and cultural impacts from climate change. Many of their cultures depend on hunting whales, walruses, seals and caribou not only for food, but also as the basis for their cultural and social identity. Changes in species ranges, numbers and accessibility, safety when travelling across ice, and a growing unpredictability of weather could all present unique challenges.
- Thawing could reduce sea ice and open short-cut shipping routes between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, stimulating an increase in marine transport and access to resources.
- On land, buildings, oil pipelines, industrial facilities, roads and airports could require substantial rebuilding if permafrost thaws.