Barnett urged U.S. officials to reconsider. "Could a climate system simply do this on its own? The answer is clearly no," Barnett said. His team used U.S. government models of solar warming and volcanic warming, just to see if they could account for the measurements they made. "Not a chance," he said. And the effects will be felt far and wide. "Anywhere that the major water source is fed by snow ... or glacial melt," he said. "The debate is what are we going to do about it."
Other researchers found clear effects on climate and animals.
Ruth Curry of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that melting ice was changing the water cycle, which in turn affects ocean currents and, ultimately, climate. "As the Earth warms, its water cycle is changing, being pushed out of kilter," she said. "Ice is in decline everywhere on the planet."
A circulation system called the Ocean Conveyer Belt is in danger of shutting down, she said. The last time that happened, northern Europe suffered extremely cold winters.She said the changes were already causing droughts in the western United States. Greenland's ice cap, which contains enough ice to raise sea levels globally by 23 feet, is starting to melt and could collapse suddenly, Curry said. Already freshwater is percolating down, lubricating the base and making it more unstable.
Sharon Smith of the University of Miami found melting Arctic ice was taking with it algae that formed an important base of the food supply for a range of animals. And the disappearing ice shelves meant big animals such as walruses, polar bears and seals were losing their homes.