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    Arctic habitat being destroyed while it disappears

    Walruses gather at waning ice. Source: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    Walruses gather at waning ice. Source: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    The habitat of polar bears and other arctic wildlife is already disappearing due to climate change. The remaining habitat could soon be actively destroyed by arctic oil drilling, said Jesper Madsen of the National Environment Research Institute at Aarhus University on Friday.

    In the continuing drama of climate change, arctic wildlife is set to be kicked to the curb again, this time by humans exploiting oil sites in the freshly thawed arctic.

    While the arctic’s temperature is rising and the ice is disappearing , Northern countries are eyeing the world’s largest unexploited oil field.

    “The oil industry has noticed, like everyone else, that ice is retreating very rapidly in the last few years. This has opened up opportunities for exploiting areas around the Arctic Ocean,” said Madsen during his presentation at the Beyond Kyoto conference. “Now there is a big risk for the entire eco-system of the arctic.”

    This risk is not due directly to climate change, but pollution like oil spills and seismic disturbances that could be caused by future oil extraction.

    Effects of drilling off Greenland

    Madsen spoke specifically of the effects that oil drilling could have off the Western coast of Greenland. Particularly at risk from oil spills in this area are polar bears, walruses and King Eider sea ducks.

    “King Eiders concentrate in very few areas coastally. You may have openings in the ice where you can see up to a quarter of a million birds at a time,” said Madsen. “They will be extremely sensitive to oil spills in their living quarters.”

    The arctic ice cover, even when thin, makes cleaning up oil spills even more difficult than usual. This is due to the high number of possible paths the oil could take through the ice and the unpredictable nature of ice floes.

    Seismic activity and noise created from drilling could also affect wildlife off the coast of Greenland. Madsen said his research showed shrimp and halibut fish populations could drop significantly.

    “There’s a big concern especially among the fisherman that the halibut population will drop off as this is their main livelihood,” said Madsen.

    Currently no oil drilling is taking place off the coast of Greenland, but the government has granted a license for exploration and seismic tests, which have commenced off Disko Bay.

    By Alexander Skorochid

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