Dr Steve Thompson’s update from the ICSU

by Dr Steve Thompson

Dr Steve Thompson

MOZAMBIQUE – Dr David Carlson, director of the International Polar Year programme office thinks that it has already happened. The Arctic is past its tipping point.

The most visible sign is the melting sea ice, but more ominous signs are the thinning of Greenland’s ice cap and the warming of northern tundra. Carlson gave this grim assessment this week in Mozambique at science’s world meeting – the International Council for Science, known as ICSU.

Before a tipping point is reached there is always some action, though increasingly drastic, which can turn things around. Beyond that point, we don’t know how things will end up. Carlson directs ICSU’s programme of research under the banner of the International Polar Year (IPY), which will actually spread over two years to mid 2009.

With what has been learned so far, Carlson ventured a couple of guesses. He sees the ‘greening’ of Greenland within a century and sea levels might rise a metre, not the five hundred years and 20-40 centimetres previously spoken of by the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change).

The Royal Society of New Zealand participates in the IPY programme, and the good news is that the Antarctic is changing more slowly. While the two poles are connected, the connection is more like an elastic
band, with one eventually pulling the other along.

ICSU represents some 150 countries and focuses a wide variety of scientific disciplines on world problems of climate change, environment and human well-being. This week, over 600 scientists are reviewing progress, along with issues such as the responsibility that scientists have to society and to politicians in searching for
solutions to these problems.

Dr Steve Thompson is Science and Innovation Promoter with the British High Commission in Wellington. Formerly he was chief executive of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and the Royal Society of New Zealand.