28 April 2006. On April 27th 2006 at the Royal Geographical Society, Earthwatch scientist Dr Peter Kershaw of the University of Alberta outlined the dire consequences of climate change in the polar regions.
His warning comes days after top environmental experts told Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the country's economy and quality of life will suffer in decades to come if the government does not tackle climate change.
"Due to global warming permafrost in the Arctic is degrading," warned Kershaw. "As permafrost thaws, vast quantities of carbon dioxide and methane are released into the atmosphere. This is currently happening in the Northern Hemisphere where we are loosing permafrost landforms at a rate of one per cent of its area per year. This will have dramatic effects on the rest of the World by adding to atmospheric and ocean warming, elevating the concentration of greenhouse gasses and raising sea levels."
Since 2002 Kershaw has been working with environmental research Institute Earthwatch at the Arctic's edge to monitor how the ecosystem is responding to climate change. The study has focused on the peatlands which run in a broad strip around the globe; these wetlands contain 30 per cent of all terrestrial carbon, which is often locked in permafrost.
Permafrost underlies 24 per cent of the Earth's land mass, including 50 per cent of Russia and Canada, 20 per cent of China and 83 per cent of Alaska. As the Northern Hemisphere is warming permafrost zones are predicted to shift poleward. This will result in the thawing of vast carbon stores which will dramatically increase global warming and raise sea levels.
"Northern residents rely on these ecosystems and will be the first to be affected," said Kershaw. "However, with almost a quarter of the Earth's landmass affected by permafrost, there are dire implications for everything from pipelines to hydroelectric dams to coastal communities and transport corridors. We are faced with an alarming story that will probably play out in our lifetime."
For more information, images and interviews contact Zoe Gamble, Earthwatch Senior Press Officer on 01865 318852 or firstname.lastname@example.org