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3/17/2009

Breaking waves sound the alarm in icy Hokkaido

The sound of waves breaking on the island of Hokkaido, "may sound nice, but that means the earth is in trouble." Ice flows down each winter from the Arctic. It forms a thick layer along the shore and gives visitors a rare opportunity to walk atop Arctic ice. But the ice is disappearing, melting in Japan's warmer waters and temperatures, and replaced by the sound of the crashing waves of warmer water. The ice cutter that takes tourists into the heart of the Arctic ice drift takes longer to get there every year. "The air is warmer and temperatures are up. This is global warming." Locals hope to turn back time by dialing back their thermometers. A hotel owner organized nearly every single business in the area to turn down the heaters by two degrees. The Shiretoko Grand Hotel gives guests hot water bottles filled with naturally hot spring water instead to stay warm under the sheets. Local businesses also save their cooking oil which will run city buses in the summer. "Small steps, but our scientists say we saved the equivalent of 21 tennis courts of ice last year." While admirable, leading scientists say that may do little to stop the Arctic ice retreat. "To the best of my knowledge and judgment, there is very little that we can do," says Columbia University's Peter Schlosser of the Earth Institute. "We would have to do something extremely dramatic and even then, the question is whether we could turn it around in time before it disappears. The question for me is rather can we re-grow it once it disappears." 
Image: Winter ice from the Arctic isn't staying frozen off the coast off Hokkaido.
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