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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Report: Warming Imperils Arctic

VIENNA -- Atmospheric warming threatens to disrupt Arctic oil pipelines in the United States and Russia as melting ice caps turn the permafrost into a "sea of mud," an international scientific report said.

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment -- a report by 300 scientists and sponsored by Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States -- is to be presented at a conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, this week. It follows a 2001 United Nations study that showed melting ice and permafrost would disrupt the Arctic economy.

"Pipelines would be at risk as the thawing permafrost turns the tundra into a sea of mud," said Paul Prestrud, vice-chairman at the Center for Climate Research in Oslo, in an interview. The report said that "oil and gas extraction will increasingly be disrupted."

Up to 4 million people live in the Arctic, spread out between the eight countries. The Arctic tundra is expected to shrink over the next century to its smallest size in 21,000 years as climate warming causes the sea level to rise, the ACIA said. Most scientists say climate warming can be attributed to human activities.

Since 1974 Arctic sea-ice has shrunk by about one million square kilometers, the ACIA report said. Temperatures are projected to rise another 4 to 7 degrees Celsius in the next 100 years.

One of the ACIA's next projects will be to design an economic impact model for the region, Prestrud said. People in the Arctic tend to work in the agricultural, fishery and oil industries, he said.

"Warming could also have some economic benefits," said ACIA spokeswoman Tove Kolset. She noted the possibility of more frequent cross-pole transport and offshore oil exploration.

The UN Environment Program said in a 2001 report that widespread disintegration of permafrost in the Arctic can cause serious damage to buildings, roads, pipelines and other infrastructure in places such as Alaska and Siberia.

The melting permafrost could also threaten a nuclear power plant near Murmansk, Prestrud said. The plant, located on the Kola Peninsula, is the only one in the world built north of the Arctic Circle.