Understanding the shrinking Arctic

This item first appeared in 2007

Event review: Arctic science

At a Cambridge and Great Eastern regional meeting Professor Elizabeth Morris OBE, gave a fascinating and topical talk: ‘Arctic Science in the International Polar Year 2007/8’. With an audience of over 70 people, Morris spoke of the damaging effects that pollution from CFCs and the burning of fossil fuels have already had and will continue to have on the Arctic.

As a senior associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute of Cambridge University and a visiting professor at the University of Reading, Morris explained in detail how the size of the Arctic’s frozen mass has been rapidly shrinking due to global warming and an increase in glacial melting right across its surface. She then expanded on the effects of Arctic fresh water ice melting into the sea, explaining how it is impacting tidal f lows and diluting the sea’s salinity levels, thereby altering ecosystems and weather systems.

‘Even though we are experiencing the cooler La Niña climate cycle, we have still recorded five record temperatures in the past two years. As we move from La Niña to the warmer El Niño, Morris predicted record temperatures across the globe.’

Morris alluded to the faint hope that the increased levels of snow precipitation that would ordinarily arise from raised temperatures due to global warming, may actually slow down the rate of change in the Arctic. The reduction in ice in the Arctic has had more than just environmental consequences, and Morris’ presentation described how politics and economics have also been affected, with governments now looking closer than ever at the ownership rights of the Arctic passage and its potential for natural resources and shipping routes.

This talk covered many issues close to the heart of the general public and scientists alike. It also proved that the right topic will draw in the crowds and that science discussion in the regions, represented by SCI’s Regional Groups, is still strong, relevant and well supported.

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