- A Greenpeace expedition to the Arctic says it has found
new evidence to show that climate change appears to be affecting the region's
- The expedition, which ended on 31 July, says young walruses
seem to be especially hard hit.
- Researchers from ten countries sailed along the edge
of the ice pack in the Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Russia.
- Travelling on the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise,
they counted and assessed the age of groups of walrus.
- Juveniles struggling
- They also kept an eye out for polar bears and for black
guillemots, birds which depend on the ice.
- The head of the research team, Dr Brendan Kelly, of the
University of Alaska, said: "Preliminary results indicate that the
walrus population isn't doing so well".
- "Although we saw more calves than last year, the
last several years have seen low juvenile survival rates, clearly indicating
that this is a population in decline.
- "We don't have enough data to say how rapid a decline
- "But the early signs of climate change such as the
retreat of the sea ice and the changes in the food supply do not bode well
for the walrus."
- The team surveyed almost 5,000 animals in the three weeks
the expedition lasted.
- In that time, the researchers say, the ice in the Chukchi
Sea melted very rapidly, in some places retreating nearly 300 miles.
- A change of prey
- In contrast, the sea ice had been heavy during the spring.
The researchers say the Arctic is warming three to five times more quickly
than the rest of the earth.
- They saw one polar bear attack an adult male walrus on
the ice - an event they say is very rare. This is because bears are usually
about half the size and weight of a mature walrus, and seldom prey on them.
- Creatures that live in the Arctic have adapted to life
there, and even if they can adapt over time to new conditions, a rapid
change in the amount of ice could be critical.
- When the ice retreats, its edge is over much deeper water,
and walruses may find it very hard to dive to the bottom to feed.
- They are an important part of the diet of indigenous
people on the shores of the Bering and Chukchi Seas.
- Bears are also being forced to range further to find
- This is the second year that Greenpeace has voiced its
concerns about Arctic walruses. It is not alone in believing that global
warming is at least partly responsible.
- There are fears that the melting of the ice could actually
- This is because open water warms the atmosphere more
than the icepack does - so the less ice there is, the more the atmosphere
- Debate over causes
- But some scientists believe what is happening in the
Chukchi Sea may be the result of local conditions, not global changes.
- In 1998, they say, the ice was at a record low north
- But on the other side of the Pole, north of Russia, it
was unusually heavy.
- Last April, British and US scientists reported unexpectedly
large losses of ice in the Antarctic.