North Pole turns to water, visitors say

The strongest evidence yet of global warming may be a mile-wide stretch of water which has appeared at the top of the world for the first time in 50 million years.

The melting was discovered by James McCarthy, an oceanographer and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose earlier research detected that the average summer thickness of ice at the North Pole was about 9ft. In early August of this year, however, the craft that McCarthy was sailing in had to travel six miles from the pole to find ice thick enough for 100 passengers to disembark, international media reported.

Scientists believe that the last time the pole was awash in water was more than 50 million years ago. “Some folks who pooh-pooh global warming might wake up if shown that even the pole is beginning to melt at least sometimes, as in the Eocene,” fellow visitor, Dr. Malcolm C. McKenna, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History is reported as saying.

The Eocene was the geological period when the world’s climate grew significantly warmer, when around 55 million years ago, according to sedimentary and fossil evidence, tropical vegetation spread inside the Arctic and Antarctic circles.

Researchers had warned that the polar icecap was shrinking by about six percent a year, but had not expected the North Pole to melt until global warming had become much more severe. In their models of climate patterns, scientists have suggested that the northern polar region would be affected earlier and more seriously than the southern region.

Others, such as Dr Peter Wadhams, a specialist in sea ice at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, are reportedly more sceptical of the implications of the ice melting. “Polar ice is always moving and these gaps can open up anywhere, including the North Pole – but it is true that there are now many more of them ”, Dr Wadhams reportedly said. However, he added that his research showed that “the average thickness of the polar ice has reduced by 40 percent and its area is shrinking by four percent annually. By the end of this century it will have disappeared completely.

The Arctic visitors also reportedly saw ivory gulls flying overhead at the pole, which ornithologists said was the first time they had ever been sighted there.

The news comes as the IPCC is drafting an important report on global warming for publication in January. The report is expected to confirm for the first time that the Greenland icecap has not only started to melt but also will eventually disappear unless global warming can be halted.

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