Scientists will meet in Paris, researchers will gather on a polar research vessel in South Africa's Cape Town harbour and about 3,000 children will build snowmen in Oslo as part of UN-backed ceremonies starting International Polar Year (IPY).
 
Overlooked
 
David Carlson, director of the IPY programme office, said: "This part of the planet has its problems and it needs to get a higher level of attention."

 

"Average Arctic temperatures increased at almost twice the global average rate in the past 100 years"

A UN report on global warming

Many scientists say that warming of the Arctic, where indigenous hunting cultures and animals are under threat from receding ice, may be a portent of damaging shifts elsewhere on the planet linked to global warming.

 

Any melting of ice sheets on Greenland or Antarctica in the next several centuries would raise world sea levels, threatening cities from Tokyo to New York and low-lying coral atolls in the Pacific.

 

"These regions are highly vulnerable to rising temperatures," Michel Jarraud, head of the UN's World Meteorological Organisation, said in a statement.

 

He said more monitoring stations were needed in polar regions.

 

Rising temperatures

 

Arctic temperatures are rising fast partly because water or ground, once exposed, soak up far more heat from the sun than ice or snow.

 

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Antarctica is staying cooler, with its far bigger volume of ice acting as a deep freeze.

 

The world's top climate scientists said in a UN report last month that "average Arctic temperatures increased at almost twice the global average rate in the past 100 years".

 

They projected that sea levels could rise by 18 to 59cm by 2100, by when Arctic sea ice may disappear in summers.

 

Nordic nations, with Arctic territories, fear businesses including tourism are vulnerable to warming.

 

Polar years - international collaborative efforts to research polar regions - have previously been carried out in 1882-83, 1932-33 and 1957-58.

 

The current "year" will last until 2009 - it often takes two seasons to reach remote polar regions, set up equipment, leave to avoid the winter and then return to collect the gear.

Source: Agencies