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COP15: Poles apart, poles together

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During the December climate negotiations, a team from WWF will have an ‘Arctic Tent’ on a main Copenhagen square and we have invited lots of people to help tell the stories of arctic climate change.

In front of the tent, we have a life sized polar bear carved from ice, created by renowned wildlife sculptor, Mark Coreth, and we have a stunning outdoor exhibit by some of the top photographers working in the Arctic today.

By Clive Tesar

Today was 2 Poles day at the Arctic Tent – on the surface, there are many similarities between these places defined in the imagination by their ice and snow. It is under the surface that they are different – literally – under the surface of much of the arctic ice is an ocean, while Antarctic ice mostly rests on rock. This is part of the explanation for why warming in the Arctic is faster and has larger local effects.

The latest information from the Antarctic was brought to the tent by Dr Colin Summerhayes, who’s been taking part in a three year climate study with a group called the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research. Summerhayes showed that while the Antarctic may not be warming as fast as the Arctic, it is definitely warming, and is going to contribute to sea level rise that is projected to reach as much as two metres globally.

While our initial focus was on the poles North and South, yesterday we were introduced to a new term, ‘the third pole’. This expression was used by Chinese researcher Yang Yong in his presentation on the Himalayan region, the source of fresh water for millions of people. Yang showed pictures of previously flourishing grasslands turned to deserts by decreasing water flows, of glaciers shrunk to a shadow of their former selves.

The same theme was taken up later in the day by James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey. The survey consists of cameras positioned alongside glaciers across the world that take pictures at regular intervals. Stitching these pictures together into a sequence shows that worldwide, these glaciers are retreating, and losing mass, contributing to sea level rise and changing the patterns of water flow globally. As Balog says, these changes should take place over centuries or decades – they should not be visible from year to year. The expression ‘at a glacial pace’ once meant something that moved extremely slowly. The sheer speed of the disappearance of these glaciers is frightening.

The change at all the poles in the world, the north, south and alpine poles, is so compelling because it is so visible. We hope people realise the changes in their homes, while less immediately visible, are becoming just as radical.

« Video: The People’s Orb | COP15: Following in their footsteps »

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