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Melting Arctic sea ice mostly man-made

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Tess Vigeland: So here’s the watercooler and dinner party topic of the week: That massive ice sheet that’s melting really, really fast in Greenland.

It seems every day brings more clarity on the warming climate and the Arctic. A study out today by climate scientists in England and Japan puts a number on how much of it is caused by humans.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Scott Tong reports.

Scott Tong: Some Arctic melting comes from what’s called natural variability — regular cycles of warm and cold. Strip that out, and the study suggests human behavior — our fossil fuel lifestyles — cause 70 to 95 percent of the problem.

Kevin Trenberth: That’s a very large number.

Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth is with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Trenberth: It certainly suggests that we’re headed for an ice-free Arctic in the summer, somewhere in the 2030s.

That’s in two decades. Most environment effects are tragic. But it does speed up the investment timeline for companies seeking northern exposure to warmer waters. Thirteen percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, and 30 oercent of the gas, is believed to be there.

Energy professor Dan Kammen at Berkeley attended an oil conference not long ago.

Daniel Kammen: They were denying the climate change story in public. On the other hand, they were saying ‘well, the data says there’ll be less ice. It’ll be easier for us to drill.’

And a host of other industries see gold in the warmer Arctic. Heather Conley ticks them off. She’s with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Heather Conley: Mineral extraction, huge numbers of iron ore, potential rare earth minerals. Fisheries, huge economic driver. Also, we’re seeing a growth in eco-tourism.

Already, the Arctic hosts one and a half million chilly tourists every year. And a million tons of cargo steam across each summer; we now have our Northwest Passage from east to west. This is a climate change market signal; the faster the ice melts, the sooner the New Great Game begins.

I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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