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U.N. climate chief: World should watch poles

The next report by the U.N. climate panel should deal with the "frightening" possibility that both Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets start significant melting, the chief U.N. climate scientist said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The next report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should deal with the "frightening" possibility that both Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets start melting at the same time, the chief U.N. climate scientist said Tuesday.

The panel, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with U.S. activist and politician Al Gore, has released four climate assessment reports already, including summaries for policy makers that are approved by government representatives.

Though there are no firm plans for a fifth report, the panel is still inviting scientists to submit material on glaciers in both the far north and south, IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said.

"My hope is in the next report, if there is one, will be able to provide much better information on the possibility of these two large bodies of ice possibly melting, in what seems what seems like a frightening situation," Pachauri said during a visit to Oslo.

Pachauri is set to visit Antarctica next week with a Norwegian delegation, after being invited during his December visit to Norway to accept the Nobel prize with Gore.

He said evidence of climate change was most apparent at the world's poles, especially in the Arctic, where the climate panel says the melting of the vast glaciers of Greenland could cause a 13-foot rise in sea levels in coming centuries.

Less is known, he said, about the impact of global warming at the Earth's opposite pole — on the vast West Antarctic Ice Sheet, a wasteland of ice and snow roughly the size of Texas.

"Unless you go to these places, you just don't get a feeling for the reality," Pachauri said. "You can read as much as you want on these subjects but it doesn't really enter your system, you don't really appreciate the enormity of what you have."

If ice sheets at both poles begin melting simultaneously, the results could be extreme, he said.

"Both Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are huge bodies of ice and snow which are sitting on land. If through a process of melting they collapse and are submerged in the sea then we really are talking about sea level rises of several meters (yards)," he said.

Pachauri and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's delegation planned to visit Norway's Troll research base in Antarctica, and return on Jan. 21.