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Whales win, walruses lose in warmer Arctic

Loss of sea ice seriously affects polar bears and walruses, which utilize ice floes as hunting platforms
  Wikipedia
Walrus
'New normal' means tourists and oil drilling
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"Whether it's a tipping point and it will never recover, who can say? But we have a new normal . . . that has implications not just for the ice but other components of the Arctic system."

—Don Perovich, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in New Hampshire

In an annual assessment called the Arctic Report Card, specialists from 14 countries accessed the Arctic has moved into a warmer, greener "new normal" phase, meaning reduced habitat for polar bears and more access for development. In 2011, Arctic air temperatures were approximately 1.5 degrees Celcius higher than the baseline number for the previous 30 years, along with a dramatic decrease of sea ice and glacier mass.

With less bright ice to reflect sunlight, and more dark open water to absorb it, the Arctic's changed characteristics will probably feed on each other and accelerate. "We've got a new normal," said Don Perovich, an expert on sea ice at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in New Hampshire."Whether it's a tipping point and it will never recover, who can say? But we have a new normal . . . that has implications not just for the ice but other components of the Arctic system."

The Artic’s turning point came in 2006, when persistent weather patterns pushed out sea ice. The following year, the Arctic ice extent, the area of the ocean covered by ice at summer's end, dropped to its lowest level ever. With less ice to clog potential shipping lanes, development in the Arctic is likely, said Monica Medina of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Arctic "new normal" means oil and gas companies and tourists can begin to expect routine access to the area, according to report co-author Jackie Richter-Menge of the Cold Regions laboratory.

The loss of sea ice seriously affects polar bears and walruses, which utilize ice floes as hunting platforms. Whales were winners, especially those that migrate from temperate areas as they could remain in the Arctic for longer periods while the water remained open in the summer. Populations of tagged bowhead whales from Alaska and west Greenland were able to mingle in the Northwest Passage, which was blocked by ice until this century.

At the base of the marine food chain, biological productivity soared by 20 per cent between 1998 and 2009 with more sunlight penetratng the increasingly open Arctic water. However, Arctic water also absorbs climate-warming carbon dioxide, which has made the Beaufort and Chukchi seas more acidic, which could erode the shells of some shellfish species.

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