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ARCTIC: NOAA strategy warns of 'widespread' climate change

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By Lauren Morello
E&E News

"Widespread and dramatic" climate change is creating new environmental, economic and national security issues in the Arctic, warns a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report.

"Widespread and dramatic" climate change is creating new environmental, economic and national security issues in the Arctic, warns a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report.

The analysis, published yesterday, outlines the agency's priorities for research and monitoring in the far northern region over the next five years. They include creating new forecasts of sea ice melt, increasing the accuracy of weather forecasts and warnings and improving NOAA's ability to monitor changes in the Arctic ecosystem.

"Increasing air and ocean temperatures, thawing permafrost, loss of sea ice, and shifts in ecosystems are evidence of widespread and dramatic ongoing change," the report warns. "As a result, critical environmental, economic, and national security issues are emerging, many of which have significant impacts for human lives, livelihoods, and coastal communities."

Agency administrator Jane Lubchenco said those changes were evident during a trip she took to Barrow, Alaska, in the summer of 2009.

"I stood on the shores of the Arctic Ocean along with schoolchildren and local elders whose mouths were wide open in astonishment as they watched surf pounding ashore in Barrow," Lubchenco said yesterday in a speech at the Aspen Institute.

For as long as Barrow's elders could remember, a thick blanket of sea ice had protected the Arctic hamlet's coasts from ocean waves. But during Lubchenco's visit, that ice was gone, leaving Barrow's shores vulnerable to erosion by the pounding surf.

The town was forced to relocate grave sites located on an especially vulnerable spit of land, Lubchenco said. But it is not the only community in Alaska's Arctic threatened by climate change.

Report calls for $10 million, but will Congress say yes?


Yesterday, NOAA officials briefed the Pentagon on preparations for relocating the village of Newtok, Alaska, from its existing location, which is threatened by erosion and thawing permafrost.

"We cannot turn back the clock," Lubchenco said. "Nor can we flip a switch to prevent anything else from happening." But the NOAA chief did tick off a laundry list of actions that she said could limit the impacts of climate change, starting with steep cuts to the world's greenhouse gas output.

Her agency's top priorities for the Arctic during the current fiscal year include improving marine weather and sea ice forecasts, developing a "distributed biological observatory" composed of environmental sampling sites throughout the Arctic region, and putting in place equipment to monitor sea level, currents and tides and map the Arctic seafloor.

The new report says the agency "anticipates an initial investment of $10 million towards the implementation of this strategy, recognizing that additional funds will be needed to achieve the goals."

That money would have to be approved by Congress, however, which could be difficult in the current budget climate. The federal government has been operating under a string of stopgap spending bills since the 2011 fiscal year began in October. The House recently approved spending legislation that would keep the lights on through September -- and slash NOAA's budget to $4.3 billion for the current spending cycle, well below the $5.5 billion the Obama administration is seeking for the next fiscal year.


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