Meltdown in the North; October 2003; Scientific American Magazine; by Matthew Sturm, Donald K. Perovich and Mark C. Serreze; 8 Page(s)
Snow crystals sting my face and coat my beard and the ruff of my parka. As the wind rises, it becomes difficult to see my five companions through the blowing snow. We are 500 miles into a 750-mile snowmobile trip across Arctic Alaska. We have come, in the late winter of 2002, to measure the thickness of the snow cover and estimate its insulating capacity, an important factor in maintaining the thermal balance of the permafrost. I have called a momentary halt to decide what to do. The rising wind, combined with-30 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, makes it clear we need to find shelter, and fast. I put my face against the hood of my nearest companion and shout: "Make sure everyone stays close together. We have to get off this exposed ridge." At the time, the irony that we might freeze to death while looking for evidence of global warming was lost on me, but later, snug in our tents, I began to laugh at how incongruous that would have been.-Matthew Sturm
The list is impressively long: The warmest air temperatures in four centuries, a shrinking sea-ice cover, a record amount of melting on the Greenland Ice Sheet, Alaskan glaciers retreating at unprecedented rates. Add to this the increasing discharge from Russian rivers, an Arctic growing season that has lengthened by several days per decade, and permafrost that has started to thaw. Taken together, these observations announce in a way no single measurement could that the Arctic is undergoing a profound transformation. Its full extent has come to light only in the past decade, after scientists in different disciplines began comparing their findings. Now many of those scientists are collaborating, trying to understand the ramifications of the changes and to predict what lies ahead for the Arctic and the rest of the globe.