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Arctic Warning

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This July was the hottest on record. And it is estimated that 2012 is on track to be the hottest year ever. I could have told you that! Even my poor puppy was completely flattened by the excessive heat.

Of all the projected nightmare scenario effects of global warming, one has seized my imagination like no other. I cannot erase the image of a lone polar bear standing on an island of ice barely bigger that it is, floating alone in the Arctic Sea. Drifting toward certain death by starvation or drowning.

Polar bears are semi-aquatic mammals, masterful swimmers, powerful and surprisingly graceful as they dive for walruses and seals. It is hard to imagine such a seaworthy creature drowning. But the bears can't stay in the water forever. They must live on the ice where they eat, sleep, hunt, migrate, mate and raise their young. Their habitat is melting beneath their feet and can literally no longer support them.

"Scientists predict that Arctic summers could be ice-free by the middle of this century, and without sea ice Polar Bears cannot survive," says the National Resources Defense Council.

These poor bears are truly a "threatened species." And if scientists and environmental organizations succeed in their lawsuit to have them officially named as such under America's Endangered Species Act, polar bears would be the first mammal to be declared jeopardized directly by global warming.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence, which is proving that the polar ice is vanishing much faster than was previously predicted. This summer the Arctic sea ice, the white cap covering the northern edge of the planet, has melted back to a record low level. And the ice is unlikely to stop shrinking. The melt season still has a few weeks more to go. The annual minimum level occurs in September.

On August 26, 2012, the area of Arctic sea-ice fell to 1.58 million square miles, surpassing the previous low, set on September 18, 2007, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Last year, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, involving 300 scientists from the United States and seven other nations, declared that Arctic sea ice is melting at an alarming rate, and identified global warming as the cause. The report stated that even the most conservative estimates predict that Arctic winter temperatures could rise as much as eighteen degrees Fahrenheit, eliminating year-round ice completely by the end of this century.

Sea ice affects weather and global climate because it reflects most of the sun's energy back out to space. If sea ice melts, the dark water beneath it absorbs most of the energy, which in turn enters the natural system. Ironically, melting sea ice actually aggravates global warming, making it worse.

NASA reported that a record 97% of Greenland's ice sheet experienced some surface melting in July this year. Earlier that month, an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan broke off Greenland's Petermann Glacier. Ice researchers who studied the event using U.S. and Canadian satellite images, as well as data from seismic monitors, were surprised to see how quickly it happened. "It's pretty alarming," is the way Luke Copland, head of the new global ice lab at the University of Ottawa, put it.

He explained,

Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur, it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly, but the big surprise is, that for one they are going, but secondly that when they do go, they just go suddenly, it's all at once, in a span of an hour.

Global warming is having equally devastating effects on the southern polar region and, unfortunately, polar bears are not the only threatened species. Animals of the Antarctic such a penguins, seals, cold-water fish and giant sea spiders are also at serious risk from such rapid climate.

The flora is affected, as well. Grass has become established in Antarctica for the first time. Occasional tufts of grass have previously grown on patches of Antarctica in the summertime, but scientists are now reporting more and more extensive areas of it. This turf is surviving winter and spreading ever further in the summer months.

Fields of grass thriving where there were once ice-sheets and glaciers is not a pretty picture. It portends a disastrous melting of the South Pole icecap which will, in turn, cause the sea waters to rise, resulting in massive flooding of coastal areas everywhere and the inevitable, inestimable loss of both land and sea life.

Global warming is caused by heat-trapping pollution such as carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks, power plants and other sources that accumulates in the atmosphere and prevents the sun's heat from escaping. China and the United States are the largest -- and, might I add, unapologetic -- world contributors of these emissions.

Now what?

The ball is in our court. The polar bears are rooting for us.

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