When glaciers shrink, a huge store of fresh water can be lost, which millions of people may depend upon for farming, fishing, and navigation; it supports vast ecosystems that will be endangered in drier conditions. Many scientists are concerned about this bleak prospect that threatens livelihoods and in some cases community survival. Further fears have been raised that the world’s permafrost is “defrosting” and this could result in a large increase of microbial activity and a resulting huge release of global warming greenhouse gases. At the IAEA, international experts met to develop a research strategy to better understand the dynamics of these risks.
In a four-day intensive workshop, the experts discussed plans for a landmark IAEA Technical Cooperation project, led by Chile and the Russian Federation, on the Impact of Climate Change on Polar and Mountainous Regions: From Assessment to Action. The meeting, held from 17 to 20 June 2013 at the IAEA Headquarters in Vienna, included representatives from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and United Nations University (UNU). The proposed four-year interregional project, which would start in 2014, would address the retreat of glaciers, loss of permafrost and reduction in snow cover resulting from global climate change. The quick facts on the project are foundhere.
The scientific community has recognized that human activities have caused changes in the natural climate cycle, resulting in a grave environmental challenge. The release of carbon dioxide (CO2) by processes such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation is causing average global temperatures to rise, affecting ecosystems. In the polar and high mountain regions of the world temperatures are rising faster than the global average, putting those ecosystems at particular risk. To better understand the risks involved if the stability of these sensitive ecosystems is not maintained, the proposed IAEA Technical Cooperation project aims to improve the understanding of the impact of climate change on the fragile polar and mountainous ecosystems, on a local and global scale, for their improved management and conservation.