Polar meltdown top challenge for Arctic Council

Environmental issues key as 8-country council meets in Sweden

Last Thursday, the eight-country Arctic Council was reminded of the issues they face by an event faraway in Hawaii. For the first time in probably three million years, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged above 400 parts per million for an entire day.

That’s based on readings at the key monitoring station at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and the best available scientific evidence. Carbon dioxide readings above 400 ppm were first seen in the Arctic last year, but did not stay above that level for an entire 24-hour period.

Canada, which hosted the founding conference of the Arctic Council in 1996 and was its first chair, again took on that responsibility at the meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, on Wednesday. Federal Health and Northern Development Minister Leona Aglukkaq was scheduled to become the council chair.

During Wednesday’s sessions, the conference agreed to let nations that are far from Earth’s north to become observers to the council’s operations.

The decision boosts rising superpowers China, India and Korea, which seek to mine the north of its untapped energy and other natural resources. The European Union also was tentatively granted observer status but must first address several questions about its bid, including concerns about its ban on Canadian seal exports.

Here are six of the most important issues on the table at the moment, from A to F:

Acidification of the Arctic Ocean

According to the council, “ocean acidification is occurring at a rapid and accelerating pace, and the Arctic Ocean is on the frontline of this global change.”

Acidification “will have a negative effect on Arctic marine ecosystems at all scales,” including marine food chains and fish stocks, it says.

One example, calcifying species may become unable to form hard shells, which would then affect other animals up the food chain.

The acidification results from rising temperatures and melting sea ice, which leads oceans to absorb larger quantities of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and turn the gas into a weak acid.

The council estimates that “Over the past 200 years, the average acidity of surface ocean waters worldwide has increased by about 30 per cent.”

What’s more, carbon dioxide “is more readily absorbed into cold water and the increasing amounts of fresh water entering the Arctic Ocean from rivers and melting ice are reducing the Arctic Ocean’s capacity to neutralize acidification.”

Daniel Schwartz, CBC News, 14 May 2013. Full article.


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