UN, scientists call for extreme caution in development of Arctic resources

The United Nations Environment Program, decrying what it calls a "rush' to exploit Arctic fossil fuels and fish as the polar ice cap dwindles, today called for full environmental assessment before any resource development is undertaken in the Arctic. The call came at the opening of the UNEP governing council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.

"What we are seeing is that the melting of ice is prompting a rush for exactly the fossil fuel resources that fueled the melt in the first place," said Achim Steiner, U.N. undersecretary-general and UNEP executive director. "... The rush to exploit these vast untapped reserves have consequences that must be carefully thought through by countries everywhere, given the global impacts and issues at stake."

UNEP called for cuts in regional emissions of greenhouse gases and soot as well as a global effort to slow global warming.

Read more at Reuters: Arctic needs protection from resource rush as ice melts, says U.N. body

Last summer's loss of Arctic sea ice shrank the polar ice cap to a record low, which coincidentally provided ideal conditions for a German research team that spent part of the season studying the algae Melosira, which forms ropy strands under the ice that provide shelter for aquatic life forms. The CBC reports that their findings highlight the unpredictability of current changes in the Arctic environment.

The Polarstern scientists wanted to find out if Melosira was benefiting from thinner ice that allows more light to pass through. They also wanted to check anecdotal reports that suggested Melosira mats were disappearing. Researchers found both assertions were correct, but not in the way they expected.

"We were surprised that we saw (Melosira mats) everywhere, but they had fallen to the deep sea," said Boetius. "We found their remnants. It looked like someone had pulled out hair. Something had happened to them."

The scientists checked the sea floor as far down as 4.4 kilometers and that's where they found the algae.

That led to quick changes in the biological environment on the ocean floor, the scientists concluded. Read more at CBC News: Sea ice loss in Arctic causing ecosystem changes