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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Arctic Lakes Are Disappearing

Global warming (or maybe Extraterrestrials) appears to be causing lakes to drain and disappear in Arctic regions, a UCLA-headed team of researchers report in the latest issue of Science.

If the pattern persists, it may imperil migratory birds and wreak further havoc on the region's weather, warns Laurence Smith, the article's lead author and an associate professor of geography at UCLA.

"In the Arctic these lakes are the dominant feature on the landscape," he said. "The plant and animal life depend on them as do native fisherman. The loss of these lakes would be an ecological disaster."

Along with researchers from UCLA, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, and the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, Smith tracked changes in more than 10,000 large lakes by comparing early satellite imagery taken across approximately 200,000 square miles of Siberian wilderness with recent satellite data.

Between 1973 and 1997–98, the total number of lakes larger than 100 acres decreased from 10,882 to 9,712, a decline of 11 percent, the team found. Most lakes did not disappear altogether, but instead shrank to sizes less than 100 acres. The total surface area in the region occupied by lakes shrank by 359 square miles, a decline of 6 percent.

In all, 125 lakes vanished completely and became covered with vegetation, the researchers found in the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. Subsequent monitoring has found that none of the lakes refilled, the researchers report in "Disappearing Arctic Lakes" in the scholarly journal's June 3 issue. The researchers, therefore, consider the lakes to be permanently drained.

"What's interesting isn't that we're seeing individual lakes disappear," Smith said. "The process appears to be abrupt and irregular. From what we can tell from space, a lake is either just fine or it's gone."


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9:05 PM  

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