Arctic meltdown turns out to be normal summer

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The Independent Online

The worst fears of the world's environmentalists have proven to be unfounded after North Pole conditions, mistaken as conclusive evidence of global warming, turned out to be part of a normal Arctic summer.

The worst fears of the world's environmentalists have proven to be unfounded after North Pole conditions, mistaken as conclusive evidence of global warming, turned out to be part of a normal Arctic summer.

Millions of TV viewers and newspaper readers on both sides of the Atlantic were last week treated to breathless accounts of the imminent demise of one of the planet's polar ice-caps. But, it now turns out, the obituaries were premature.

The source of the scare was a New York Times report of the fears of scientists on board a Russian icebreaker who saw a mile-long lake of open water at the pole, convincing them they were seeing physical evidence of the greenhouse effect.

The newspaper's report that the ice-cap had melted for the first time in 50 million years was relayed around the world and hailed as the evidence needed to silence sceptics who doubted the global warming theory.

James McCarthy, director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, who was on board the icebreaker Yamal, broke the news after the vessel was able to sail through thin ice into the lake.

"There was a sense of alarm. Global warming was real, and we were seeing its effects for the first time that far north," he said.

If true, his discovery would have fuelled fears that the icecap could disappear within 50 years and increase the pressure on industrialised countries to cut the discharge of climate-changing gases such as carbon dioxide. If the ice cap was to melt it would devastate Arctic wildlife populations and change Britain's climate to a significant degree.

It now seems he and his crew may have been too easily alarmed. The newspaper yesterday issued a clarification, saying that its report misstated the conditions of sea ice at the pole, which though "striking and unusual" were "not as surprising as suggested".

It said that rather than being a once in 50 million years event, water had probably occurred at the pole before because the Arctic Ocean is about 10 per cent ice-free during a typical summer. In a further clarification, the paper quoted other experts who said lack of ice at the North Pole was not necessarily a result of global warming.

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