UNEP supported polar expedition departs on unique voyage of science and exploration
Lorient, France, 11 July 2006 – The Polar Regions are some of the most hauntingly beautiful places on Earth. They are also nature’s early warning systems where issues like human-induced climate change, the thinning of the ozone layer and the impacts of persistent chemical pollution continue to be registered first.
The Arctic region in particular is also increasingly becoming a new economic powerhouse for minerals, oil and gas extraction and shipping—partly as a result of the receding ice due to climate change. Both Polar Regions are seeing increased interest from tourism and the fisheries industry keen to exploit their vast and abundant fish stocks.
All of these issues present opportunities and threats to indigenous peoples living in the Arctic region and for the world as a whole.
It is against this backdrop that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is supporting Tara Expeditions and the Arctic Drift project, Tara Arctic 2007-2008.
As part of the International Polar Year (commencing March 2007), the polar schooner Tara is setting out today from Lorient, France, on a two year expedition to the Arctic. On 19 July it will stop in Oslo, and then continue northwards into the Arctic Ocean.
Locked in the ice, the boat will then drift across the region providing an unprecedented platform for scientific observations and research (including the European DAMOCLES project) on how the Arctic environment is changing - and relay these findings to scientists, policy makers and the general public alike.
Two years ago, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), an unprecedented four-year scientific study by an international team of 300 scientists, provided clear evidence that the Arctic climate is warming rapidly now and, of even greater concern, that much larger changes are projected for the future (see below for more information).
“Through their scientific, educational and environmental awareness work, Tara Expeditions is building on the legacy of former UNEP special envoy and previous owner of the boat, the late Sir Peter Blake, in a manner that will contribute to a greater understanding of what is happening in the Arctic region today,” said UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner. “And, importantly, they are helping relay the message that what happens at the poles should be of upmost concern to us all.”
Tara’s progress can be followed on the UNEP web site, http://www.unep.org and from http://www.taraexpeditions.org
Among its many and detailed scientific findings, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment
(ACIA) predicted that Arctic vegetation zones and animal species will be impacted. Retreating sea ice is expected to reduce the habitat for polar bears, walrus, ice-inhabiting seals, and marine birds, threatening some species with extinction.
Such changes will also impact on many Arctic indigenous communities who depend on such animals, not only for food, but also as the basis for cultural and social identity.
And, beyond the region, as the Arctic glaciers melt and the permafrost thaws, it will be developing countries, with limited means to adapt to environmental change that suffer most. For more information and copies of the ACIA see http://www.acia.uaf.edu/
For more information about International Polar Year, see http://www.ipy.org
For information about the DAMOCLES (Developing Arctic Modeling and Observing Capabilities for Long-term Environmental Studies) project, see http://www.damocles-eu.org/
With a link to IPY, Norway will host next year’s UNEP World Environment Day celebrations. For more information see http://www.unep.org
UNEP’s work in the Polar Regions is led by the UNEP GRID Arendal centre in Norway. For more information see /polar/
For more information please contact: Robert Bisset, Spokesperson in Europe, on Tel: 33 1 4437 7613, Mobile: 33 6 2272 5842, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.unep.org