2000-2010: A Decade of (Climate) Change

John Roach
for National Geographic News
December 10, 2009

A decade ago, global climate change was largely considered a problem for the distant future. But it seems that future has come sooner than predicted.

One of the most remarkable, and alarming, environmental changes to occur over the last decade is the melting of Antarctic ice sheets and the recession of Arctic glaciers at speeds much faster than climate change models had predicted, according to environment experts.

In addition, the Arctic ice cap reached an all-time low in the summer of 2007. Some climate scientists now predict the region will be ice free during the summer within the next decade.

Studies suggest an ice-free Arctic could result not only in a stormier North Pole region, but could also affect weather patterns throughout the entire Northern Hemisphere.

The loss of ice would also be a death knell for polar bears, which rely on ice to hunt and raise their young. But it would also be a boon for business, including shipping and resource extraction.

Climate change has made itself apparent in other powerful ways over the past decade.

In southeastern Australia, a ten-year drought now causes the Murray River to trickle into the sand before it reaches the sea.

For the last several decades, ecologist John Harte, has watched global warming shift vegetation in the Rocky Mountains from a palette of wildflowers to sagebrush, the latter of which is hardier.

"As snowmelt trends toward coming earlier and earlier, it has big effects on the competition among plants," said Harte, of the University of California, Berkeley.

Waking Up to Climate Change

Melting ice, droughts, earlier springs, as well as disappearing polar bears and frog extinctions are among the signs that global warming is already having an effect on the planet, experts say.

In recent years, these signs have begun to resonate with people around the world, said Joshua Reichert, the managing director of the Pew Environment Group, a Washington, D.C.-based international environmental nonprofit.

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