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Talking global warming with Alun Anderson

December 21, 2009 |  3:23 pm

Polarbear

In our science pages, Lori Kozlowski talks to Alun Anderson, author of "After the Ice: Life, Death, and Geopolitics in the New Arctic." Anderson, who began as an academic and researcher -- after earning his PhD, he got a couple of postdoctoral fellowships -- has been a science journalist since 1980. He's been an editor at the journal Nature and is the former editor in chief of New Scientist magazine.

You begin your book describing the first polar bear you ever saw. Can you describe the moment and how it led to this book?

I'd gone on a trip to the Canadian Arctic by chance. I knew nothing about the Arctic. We set off on our first day, and I'd flown in from England and was quite jet-lagged, so I stayed up all night. I went up on deck. I saw this small dot in the distance, which as we got closer, it was a polar bear. It ignored the boat completely. It was the bear's world. I was talking to a biologist up on deck, and he told me: "This bear will not make it through the year. It is too thin. And there is no ice for it to swim out to for the bear to hunt from."

I was completely gutted. I wanted to know more about the bear and the ice.

In the summer of 2007, a large area of ice in the Arctic (625,000 square miles, four times the size of California) melted away at a speed no one has seen before. You call it "the great crash of 2007." Was this a first signal that global warming was becoming more potent?

Yes, that's right. Global warming had been making the ice thinner for a long time. But that wasn't apparent. From a satellite view, you just see ice. You don't know if it is thick or thin. That was a very sunny summer, and suddenly we knew that this ice was a complete mess. The melting forced scientists to think again about what they knew. They couldn't see before that the area was becoming more vulnerable. Their previous data revealed we wouldn't get [to the point of a massive ice melt] until 2056. We reached it 50 years early.

Read the complete interview here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: A polar bear rolls in the snow Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Credit: Marten Van Dijl / EPA

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