Al Gore: A Billion People's Water at Risk From Melting Ice

Climate guru Al Gore warned UN climate talks Monday that record melting of Polar and Himalayan ice could deprive deprive more than a billion people's access to clean water.

Adding to an avalanche of bad scientific news over the last two years, the former US vice president cited new research showing that the Arctic ice cap may have shrunk to record-low levels last year.

"2008 had a smaller minimum, probably, than 2007," Gore said at the release of a report he co-sponsored with the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, called Melting Snow and Ice: A call for Action.

"These figures are fresh, I just got them yesterday," Gore said, alluding to work led by Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

"Some of the models suggest to Dr. Maslowski that there is a 75 percent chance that the entire polar ice cap during some of summer months could be completely ice free within five to seven years," Gore said.

"There are more than a billion people on the planet who get more than half of their drinking water -- many of them all of their drinking water -- from the seasonal melting of snow melt and glacier ice."

Scientists reported last September that Arctic ice cover -- which helps beat back the Sun's heat-delivering rays back into space -- had reversed course after 2007, when it had shrunk to its smallest size ever.

But when measured by volume, the 4.5 million sq km (1.7 million sq miles) area in 2008 was actually smaller than the year before.

The Arctic ice cover does not affect sea levels, but is a critically important barrier to global warming.

Intact, its white surface acts as a mirror, but when the ice disappears it becomes a sponge.

"Instead of 85 percent of the solar energy being reflected, 85 is absorbed in the Arctic Ocean," said Gore who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work on warning of the threat posed by climate change.

Co-author Robert Corell of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in Washington pointed to another threat: the massive, accelerating loss of mass -- measured in hundreds of billions of tonnes per year -- from icesheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

Combined with the expansion of ocean water due to global warming, the continent-sized icesheets are now set to contribute to a global sea level rise of about a metre by year's end, double the mid-point prediction of the UN's benchmark science report in 2007.

"A one meter rise equals 100 million people who will have to move, one hundred million environmental refugees," said Corell.

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