Scientist to speak on Arctic climate change in lecture

Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Although most people will never see the Arctic in their lifetimes, their daily actions still have an effect on the region, said Neil Hamilton, director of the World Wildlife Fund's International Arctic Program.

"What's happening in the Arctic is deeply profound," he said. "It's going to affect all of our lives."

Hamilton will present a lecture titled "What's Happening to the Arctic? A Thinking Person's Guide to the Future" beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at KTOO's studio downtown. WWF and the Juneau World Affairs Council are sponsoring the event.

"The Arctic is the key to the global climate system and climate change is the greatest threat to biodiversity," he said.

WWF has implemented a major Arctic program in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway, Sweden and Russia to help address the emerging issues facing the region in the 21st century. The non-governmental agency seeks to expand its efforts in the region by working on a wide range of issues such as oil and gas production, shipping, fishing and conservation work, Hamilton said.

"We're sort of right up at the cutting edge of seeing what's happening as a result of climate change in the Arctic and needing to respond to it now," he said. "So WWF is playing a leading role in that."

The organization has a seat as an observer on the Arctic Council, the only non-governmental agency on the intergovernmental forum for Arctic governments and people.

"We work very closely with the Arctic countries to try to improve governance of the Arctic, to try to understand what's happening and develop systems to make it a sustainable place," Hamilton said.

The presentation will highlight physical changes in the Arctic and what those changes mean for people and animals both regionally and globally.

The multimedia presentation also will give people a feel for what the implications are and how people around the world need to respond, he said.

"It's supposed to be an idea to make people think about how they live and realize that the Arctic is not a remote place up north ... but it's also a place where you can get feedback from the rest of the world that will accelerate climate change," Hamilton said.

Scientists are beginning to see both direct and indirect effects of climate change on wildlife in the Arctic, he said. Animals, both terrestrial and marine, are being affected by changes in sea surface temperatures, seawater temperatures, loss of sea ice and through seasonal abnormalities, he said.

"We're seeing a lot of different birds at different times," for example, he said. "And the Arctic has the most migratory birds anywhere, and this is a fundamental part of the ecology and all of that is changing."

And while things are rapidly changing, there is still time to alter human behavior before climate change in the Arctic becomes irreversible, Hamilton said.

"We have the opportunity to make a choice now," he said. "We can either choose to do nothing, in which case the implications will affect all of us wherever we live in the world. Or we can act now and it will not have dramatic impacts on us, but we will be able to safeguard our futures."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or e-mail

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