Revealed: The Secret Evidence of Global Warming Bush Tried to Hide

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Revealed: The Secret Evidence of Global Warming Bush Tried to Hide

Photos from US spy satellites declassified by the Obama White House provide the first graphic images of how the polar ice sheets are retreating in the summer. The effects on the world's weather, environments and wildlife could be devastating

by
Suzanne Goldenberg and Damian Carrington

Satellite images of polar ice sheets taken in July 2006 and July 2007 showing the retreating ice during the summer. (Photograph: Public Domain) To see larger image: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/26/climate-change-obama-administration#zoomed-picture

Graphic images that reveal the devastating impact of global warming
in the Arctic have been released by the US military. The photographs,
taken by spy satellites over the past decade, confirm that in recent
years vast areas in high latitudes have lost their ice cover in summer
months.

The pictures, kept secret by Washington during the
presidency of George W Bush, were declassified by the White House last
week. President Barack Obama is currently trying to galvanize Congress
and the American public to take action to halt catastrophic climate change caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One
particularly striking set of images - selected from the 1,000
photographs released - includes views of the Alaskan port of Barrow.
One, taken in July 2006, shows sea ice still nestling close to the
shore. A second image shows that by the following July the coastal
waters were entirely ice-free.

The photographs demonstrate
starkly how global warming is changing the Arctic. More than a million
square kilometers of sea ice - a record loss - were missing in the
summer of 2007 compared with the previous year.

Nor has this
loss shown any sign of recovery. Ice cover for 2008 was almost as bad
as for 2007, and this year levels look equally sparse.

"These are
one-meter resolution images, which give you a big picture of the
summertime Arctic," said Thorsten Markus of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "This is the main reason why we are so thrilled about it.
One-metre resolution is the dimension that's been missing."

Disappearing
summer sea ice poses considerable dangers, scientists have warned. Ice
shelves are used by animals such as polar bears as platforms for
hunting seals and other sea creatures. Without them, they could starve.
In addition, ice reflects solar radiation. Without that process, the
Arctic sea could warm up even more. The phenomenon threatens to set off
runaway heating of the planet, say climatologists.

The latest
revelations have triggered warnings from scientists that they no longer
have the funds to keep a comprehensive track of climate change. Last
week the head of the US's National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), Professor Jane Lubchenco, warned that the
gathering of satellite data - crucial to predicting future climate
changes - was now at "great risk" because America's aging satellite
fleet was not being replaced.

"Our primary focus is maintaining
the continuity of climate observations, and those are at great risk
right now because we don't have the resources to have satellites at the
ready and taking the kinds of information that we need," said
Lubchenco, who was appointed by Obama. "We are playing catch-up."

Even
before her warning, scientists were saying that America, the world's
scientific superpower, was virtually blinding itself to climate change
by cutting funds to the environmental satellite programs run by the
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. A report by the
National Academy of Sciences this year warned that the environmental
satellite network was at risk of collapse.

In February, a NASA
satellite carrying instruments to produce the first map of the Earth's
carbon emissions crashed near Antarctica only three minutes after
lift-off.

The satellite would have measured carbon emissions at
100,000 points around the planet every day, providing a wealth of data
compared to the 100 or so fixed towers currently in operation in a
land-based network.

The NOAA is under additional pressure to
provide environmental data because of the re-emergence of the El Niño
climate phenomenon, where warming of the tropical Pacific causes
heatwaves, droughts and flooding around the world. June's land and sea
surface temperatures were the second hottest on record, and scientists
are predicting this will be the warmest decade in recorded history. The
last major El Niño was in 1998, the hottest year in recorded history.

The Obama administration
has already taken steps to tackle America's flagging scientific lead.
The president's economic recovery plan allotted $170m (£100m) to help
close the gaps in climate modelling. The NOAA is seeking an additional
$390m in its 2010 budget to upgrade environmental satellites, and help
make data more available to researchers and government officials.

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