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Leaving a warming Arctic: First-hand account of climate change and the effect on bowhead whales

Kate Stafford, an oceanographer at the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington, writes a blog from the NY Times entitled “Scientist at Work, Notes From The Field”. Writing from Alaska where she is finalizing in a visual census of bowhead whales, Kate gives a first-hand account of the how the changes in climate are affecting both the natural habitants of the Arctic and the researchers who work there:

The Chukchi is considerably less interesting without ice, and as the Arctic continues to warm, there will be longer ice-free periods. This reduction in sea ice lets more temperate species, like eastern gray whales, summer off Barrow. On my last day at the perch, there was a gray whale feeding just offshore for hours.

Kate expresses concern about what she is seeing:

How reduction in sea ice will affect the bowhead whale is uncertain, but the effect on species that rely on this ice to haul out, hunt and pup (walrus, polar bears and ice seals) is currently of great concern.

In addition to loss of habitat through loss of sea ice cover, the opening of the Arctic to increased ship traffic and oil and gas exploration will increase ambient noise levels underwater and increase the real risk of a devastating oil spill in a fragile ecosystem.

Kate’s observations are a valuable contribution to the growing body of information that will be the focus of research funded by the International Research Initiative on Adaptation to Climate Change (IRIACC). ACT will be participating through Coastal Cities at Risk: Building Adaptive Capacity for Managing Climate Change in Coastal Megacities, a five-year study led by former ACT policy author Dr. Gordon McBean from University of Western Ontario, and Dr. Anond Snidvongs, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.

Further information about IRIACC and the upcoming climate change studies can be found online.

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