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Dr Christian Berndt, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
Dr Mathew Williams, University of Edinburgh, representing the NERC-funded Arctic Biosphere Atmosphere Coupling at Multiple Scales consortium
Dr David Vaughan, British Antarctic Survey

Shrinking ice-sheets, rising sea-levels, greenhouse gases and a warmer world

Polar regions are warming faster than anywhere else in the world. Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded researchers from the British Antarctic Survey, National Oceanography Centre Southampton and University of York are studying changes in these important environments that could exacerbate climate change.

Melting ice caps could raise sea levels enough to threaten coastal areas worldwide. Recent research into the effects of warming in polar regions has found that greenhouse gases released from melting tundra and from ocean sediments might cause more and very rapid warming and accelerate the disappearance of ice sheets still further.

"Climate change isn't always a gradual, slow process," says Matthew Edworthy from NERC. "Studies of melting ice caps, thawing tundra and methane currently frozen in ocean sediments suggest that sudden, irreversible changes are possible in our lifetimes.

"Methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide," explains Matthew. "Warming in polar areas will cause the release of greenhouse gases currently frozen out of the climate system and this will accelerate the warming still further."