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An Arctic alert on global warming

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"The Arctic is warming now, at a faster rate than the rest of the planet. It's affecting people, and its effects are global," says Robert Corell, a senior fellow with the American Meteorological Society who chaired the team that pulled the study together.

Assembled over 4-1/2 years, the study came at the request of the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee. The council includes top-level government officials from the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden, as well as from six organizations representing indigenous groups who live in the Arctic region. Some 300 scientists from the world's top polar-research centers were involved.

The report details current and projected changes that could affect everything from shipping, agriculture, and the livelihoods of indigenous people to breeding grounds for migratory birds, many of which are considered endangered. One aspect on which researchers are keeping their eye: the release of methane and carbon dioxide as permafrost thaws and tundra decomposes. Even if the advance of forests to higher latitudes soaks up some of this released CO2, this still leaves methane - a much more potent greenhouse gas - free to enter the atmosphere.

Monday, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change issued its own study of global warming's effect on the US. The report largely focuses on warming's impact on ecology and biodiversity.

The Arctic study also comes at a time of growing momentum internationally to address the climate change.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill passed by parliament that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. His signature was the final act required for the pact to take effect. The accord requires industrial countries party to the pact to reduce their CO2 emissions by an average of 5.5 percent between 2008 and 2012. While climate researchers agree that the pact's target will have little effect on atmospheric CO2, the agreement establishes mechanisms for achieving emissions targets, such as emissions trading, that may be a foundation for future agreements.

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