As representatives of 180 nations negotiated in Bali to arrive at a strategy for dealing with climate change -- an effort nearly thwarted by the intransigence of the Bush administration -- a new scientific report underlined the urgency of their work.


For Sunday release

As representatives of 180 nations negotiated in Bali to arrive at a strategy for dealing with climate change -- an effort nearly thwarted by the intransigence of the Bush administration -- a new scientific report underlined the urgency of their work.


The ice in the Arctic Ocean is melting at a record pace, NASA announced Wednesday. By the end of the summer, surface ice in the Arctic Ocean was 23 percent below the previous record. Greenland lost 12 percent more of its surface ice this summer than in any summer on record.


Just a year ago, experts had predicted there would be no summer ice left in the Arctic by 2040. If this year's melt is part of a trend, The Associated Press quoted one expert predicting, the Arctic could be ice-free in five years.


Arctic melting has a huge impact on weather cycles, ocean currents and sea levels, scientists say. The melting is also one of several feedback mechanisms that can accelerate global warming. Sunlight reflects off of white ice, but is absorbed into dark sea water, warming it even more.


"The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming," NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally said. "Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines."


The Bali conference, charged with drawing up a "roadmap" to guide two years of negotiations toward an agreement to replace the Kyoto accord on climate change, went into overtime at week's end to try to avert a stalemate over the U.S. delegation's refusal to set 10-year targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. America is alone among major nations in refusing to join the Kyoto treaty, and it has been alone in Bali. On an issue which cries out for American leadership, America remains the main obstacle to progress.


Every new scientific finding underlines the scientific consensus, with many of them coming up worse than the worst-case scenarios of previous projections. Every analysis agrees that the longer the world waits to act, the more difficult the task.


"The Arctic is screaming," a senior scientist analyzing the latest data said. How long before Washington hears it?