Glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica are moving much faster toward the sea and the executive director of the Canadian secretariat of the International Polar Year said that "glaciers in the West Antarctic are losing about 103 billion tons a year of ice in discharge," which translated into "an additional 10 to 20 centimeters” to the existing U.N. predictions of sea level rise this century of 18-59 cm (7-23 inches), Bloomberg reported Thursday.[1]  --  A collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet "could add 1 to 1.5 meters (39-57 inches) to sea levels this century," he said.  --  Do the math:  23+20+57=100, or 8 feet 4 inches.  --  "While the U.N. said a complete melt of the West Antarctic ice sheet is unlikely this century, Hik said 'we thought lots of things were unlikely even two years ago,'" Alex Morales reported.  --  On Saturday, writing for Die Welt, former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, who played a key part in the diplomacy that in 1988 transformed the Antarctic into a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science, warned that "urgently necessary to negotiate a treaty that guarantees peace and environmental protection in the Arctic region. It will probably be very difficult to achieve, but the effort should be viewed as a great cause for humankind."[2] ...

1.

GREENLAND, ANTARCTICA GLACIERS SPEEDING FASTER TOWARD THE SEA
By Alex Morales

Bloomberg
February 26, 2009

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aTg9EF2NtBCg

LONDON -- Glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster than predicted, accelerating their march to the sea and adding to the rising ocean levels that threaten coastal communities worldwide.

The Pine Island Glacier, the biggest in West Antarctica, has sped 40 percent faster toward the sea since the 1970s and Smith Glacier is moving 83 percent quicker than 15 years ago, said David Hik, executive director of the Canadian secretariat of the International Polar Year, an international scientific project.

“The loss of ice is pretty spectacular,” Hik, a professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said today in a telephone interview from Geneva. “The big outflow glaciers on Greenland are accelerating their discharge as well.”

The study means scientists now have a better handle on the potential contribution to sea-level rise of melting ice sheets than two years ago, when the United Nations produced its biggest report on global warming, predicting an increase in sea levels of 18 to 59 centimeters (7 to 23 inches) this century.

The U.N. acknowledged a lack of certainty about ice loss from Antarctica. The latest findings will help refine climate-change modeling and predictions of future sea-level rise, Hik said.

“Altogether, the glaciers in the West Antarctic are losing about 103 billion tons a year of ice in discharge,” he said. “This discharge from west Antarctica would add an additional 10 to 20 centimeters” to the existing UN predictions of sea level rise this century, he said.

While the U.N. said a complete melt of the West Antarctic ice sheet is unlikely this century, Hik said “we thought lots of things were unlikely even two years ago.” A collapse of the sheet could add 1 to 1.5 meters to sea levels this century, he said.

“The effects of warming are going to be global,” Hik said. “What happens at the poles will influence all parts of the planet and it’s very evident that we can see rapid changes in sea level associated with changes in the Arctic and Antarctic.”

International Polar Year drew in 50,000 researchers from 63 countries, according to Hik. The project spanned two years, ending next month, to incorporate a full year each of the Arctic in the north and the Antarctic in the south.

--To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

2.

Environment

THE NORTH POLE IN PERIL
By Michel Rocard

Die Welt
February 28, 2009

http://www.welt.de/english-news/article3292871/The-North-Pole-in-peril.html

Ever since mankind began to map the world, the north and south poles have fascinated us, both poetically and scientifically. But, save for a few whalers and explorers, not many people ever went to have a closer look. The serene stillness of the Arctic and Antarctic was a perfect match for human indifference.

Of course, that old indifference was not universal. In a rare spurt of collective political intelligence, and in order to prevent any risk of international conflict, an international treaty was signed in 1959 to govern Antarctica. This treaty dedicated Antarctica to exclusively peaceful aims. It recognized the existing territorial claims, declared them “frozen,” and forbade all physical assertions of sovereignty on the land of Antarctica.

The nature and content of that treaty were purely diplomatic. Only after its ratification did the first environmental issues arise. These were added to a revised treaty in 1972 by a convention on seal protection, followed, in 1980, by a convention on wildlife preservation. Most importantly, a protocol signed in Madrid in 1991, dealt with protecting the Antarctic environment.

As French Prime Minister, together with Australia’s then Prime Minister Robert Hawke, I was responsible for proposing the Madrid protocol, which transformed the Antarctic into a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science for 50 years, renewable by tacit agreement. It was not an easy success. We had to reject first a convention on the exploitation of mineral resources that had already been negotiated and signed in Wellington in 1988, thus risking reopening very uncertain negotiations. We were bluffing, but our bluff worked.

The Antarctic environment is now effectively protected by the international community, which is the de facto owner of this continent, without any national differentiations. It is the only such case in the world. Indeed, international lawyers who are seeking to define the legal status of outer space -- Who will own the moon? Who will own the resources that may one day be extracted there? -- often look to the “Antarctic treaty system” for precedents and analogies.

But Antarctica had one great advantage, as compared to the Arctic, which is now in peril: there were only penguins in Antarctica, not voters, especially voters of different nationalities.

Antarctica, though a huge continental archipelago, measuring 24 million square kilometers, and covered in ice that is 4-5 kilometers thick, is far from any inhabited continent. The Arctic is only water, with the North Pole itself 4,200 meters under the surface. But five countries are very close: Norway, Russia, the United States, Canada, and Denmark (via Greenland, which will become independent in the coming years).

Throughout most of human history, ice almost completely barred all navigation in the seas surrounding the North Pole, and the Arctic was asleep in a silent indifference. Everything has changed radically during the last three years. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has established that global warming is not uniform: whereas temperatures rose, on average, by 0.6°C in the twentieth century, the increase in the Arctic region was 2°.

Some estimates suggest that about 20% of the world’s total oil reserves lie under the Arctic. In 2008, for the first time in human history, two navigation channels through the polar ice field -- in the East along Siberia, and in the West along the Canadian islands -- were open for a few months, allowing boats to go from Europe to Japan or California via the Bering Straits, rather than the Panama Canal or the Horn of Africa, thereby saving some 4,000 or 5,000 kilometers.

Given global warming, this may now become a regular occurrence: thousands of ships will pass through the Arctic passages, emptying their fuel tanks and causing oil slicks and other forms of pollution. This poses a real threat to the Eskimo and Inuit populations, as well as to polar bears.

Moreover, according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries’ enjoy absolute sovereignty in the first 12 nautical miles (about 20 kilometers) of their coastal waters sea, and almost absolute sovereignty, limited by a few conventions, within 200 nautical miles (360 kilometers) of their coasts. Any country that can prove that the seabed beyond 200 nautical miles is an extension of the continental shelf on which it is sovereign can claim sovereignty over it as well.

Russia, which three years ago used a submarine to plant a platinum copy of its national flag at the North Pole, claims sovereignty over 37% of the surface of the Arctic Ocean. The territories claimed by Russia include the North Pole and a huge oil field. If this oil is exploited, the pollution risks will be far higher than anywhere else. And could Russia, given its rearmament policy, be planning to set up underwater missile launch sites?

It is therefore urgently necessary to negotiate a treaty that guarantees peace and environmental protection in the Arctic region. It will probably be very difficult to achieve, but the effort should be viewed as a great cause for humankind.

--Michel Rocard is the former Prime Minister of France and leader of the Socialist Party, is a member of the European Parliament.