The World As We Knew It Has Been Left Behind
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    Rapid Arctic thaw rings alarm bells

    By Alister Doyle

    NORWAY: May 25, 2004

    OSLO - Global warming is hitting the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet in what may be a portent of wider, catastrophic changes, the chairman of an eight-nation study has said.

    Inuit hunters are falling more frequently through the thinning ice with habitats for plants and animals also disrupted. The icy Hudson Bay in Canada could be uninhabitable for polar bears within just 20 years.

    The melting is also destabilising buildings on permafrost and threatening an oil pipeline laid across Alaska.

    Benefits, for human commerce, might accrue from the opening up of a now largely icebound short-cut sea route from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Russia might also win easier access to oil and gas as the icecap shrinks and permafrost retreats.

    The broader consequences are however disturbing.

    "There is dramatic climate change happening in the Arctic right now...about 2-3 times the pace of the whole globe," said Robert Corell, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), in an 1,800 page report to be handed to ministers in Iceland in November.