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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Polar bears 'could become extinct' because of melting ice, scientists claim

By Louise Gray
Polar bears and other rare species are in danger of dying out, scientists fear, as latest figures show the Artic sea ice is at record lows.
Scientists from the World Wildlife Fund, who are recording the ice cover over the North Pole, said less ice is predicted in the Arctic this year than in any other.

Experts say this not only means a loss of habitat to species like polar bears and loss of livelihood for indigenous peoples but could speed up global warming as water absorbs heat rather than reflecting the sun's rays back into space.

Dr Martin Sommerkorn, senior climate change advisor at WWF International's Arctic Programme, said: "We are expecting confirmation of 2008 being either the lowest or the second-lowest year in terms of summer ice coverage.

"This means two years in a row of record lows since we started recording Arctic sea ice coverage.

"The trend of melting Arctic sea ice is alarming for the rest of the world. The Arctic is a key factor in stabilising the global climate so this is a global problem that demands an immediate and global response."

The area of ice that is at least five years old has dramatically fallen by more than half since 1985. It comes as the Northwest Passage, over the top of North America and the Northeast Passage, in Russia, are both free of ice for the first time.

Dr Sommerkorn added: "Arctic ice is like a mirror, reflecting the sun's heat back into space.

"As that ice goes, Arctic waters absorb more heat, adding to global warming. Warming of the Arctic will soon release more greenhouse gases from the Arctic that were previously locked in permanently frozen ground."

The WWF is now calling on the UK Government to help stabilise Arctic sea ice by slowing global warming through the Climate Change Bill, championing a stronger EU Climate and Energy Package and a more ambitious UN climate agreement to come into force from 2013.

David Norman, Director of Campaigns at WWF-UK said: "The worrying trend in Arctic sea ice loss provides the clearest evidence yet for the need to decisively tackle climate change now, both at a national and a global level. "The coming year will also be crucial for global climate negotiations and we expect to see the Prime Minister driving forward a courage."

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