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Norwegian Glacier Shrinks and Marine Life Poisoned as the Globe Warms

More and more literally devastating evidence of global warming keeps coming up from across the world. A glacier in Norway is shrinking fast and toxic Californian// seawaters are killing marine life in their thousands.

Global warming continues to wreak havoc. A couple of days ago it was reported that a Norwegian glacier had shrunk on an island 1,000 km from the North Pole, a usually frozen fjord (a long narrow arm of sea between high cliffs) is ice-free and snow bunting birds have migrated back early.

"This glacier is dying," guide Eirik Karlsen said on a visit to a tunnel through the ice left by last summer's melt water cascading through the heart of the fast-retreating 3 km long glacier above the village of Longyearbyen.

In California environmentalists reported that toxic acid emanating from a type of ocean algae had sickened and killed hundreds of birds, sea lions and dolphins.

The algae population increases or "blooms" every year as the ocean waters warm but this year's bloom seems early, extensive and "very, very thick," says David Caron, who teaches in the biological sciences department at University of Southern California.

The Norwegian tunnel, big enough to walk along with ice stalactites hanging from the roof, snakes its way 15 meters below the surface of the Longyearbyen Glacier and shows that huge volumes of water flowed down towards the valley last year.

Many residents say bone-chilling temperatures, blizzards and storms always vary drastically from year to year around the world's most northerly village, with or without global warming.

Still, U.N. climate experts says the Arctic is heating up faster than the rest of the planet because of global warming, threatening human livelihoods and species such as polar bears that depend on sea ice for hunting seals.

They say dark sea water and land, once exposed, soaks up more heat than ice and snow. Glaciers are in retreat in many p arts of the world, from the Alps to the Himalayas, and could push up sea levels in coming decades and centuries.

Snow buntings, which arrive from Siberia at the end of the winter, turned up about a week earlier than normal. Little auks also migrated to the islands early, residents say.

People have been little affected by the melt. The main business is a coal mine and food is imported from the Norwegian mainland to the south. Buildings are already built on high stilts to protect against any thaw of permafrost.

The Norwegian Polar Institute says that a melt of glaciers in western Svalbard, such as Longyearbyen glacier, has clearly accelerated in recent years.

Two climate activists studying the region stripped off to swimming costumes and sat on the ice by the fjord to highlight risks of climate change.

"If the climate keeps warming, the Arctic might be warm enough for swimming," said Rob Bell, in chill temperatures of about -5 degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile in California, birds and animals have been washing up on shores from San Diego to San Francisco Bay.

In the past week, 40 birds have been taken to the International Bird Rescue Center in San Pedro with symptoms of domoic acid poisoning, which attacks the brain and can cause seizures.

In previous seasons, the center might see seven birds a week, director Jay Holcomb said.

"I have been doing this work for 35 years and I have never seen anything like this as far as the number of species affected, other than an oil spill," Holcomb said Thursday.

Domoic acid is produced by microscopic algae. Birds and sea mammals ingest the acid by eating fish and shellfish who dine on the algae.

"In five years of study I have not seen a bloom this large at this particular time of year," Caron said. "It's having an extraordinary impact on pelicans and many other species."

"There are conceivably thousands of animals being a ffected," Caron said.

An official at the Wetland and Wildlife Care Centre in Huntington beach noted, "The concentration of the toxin is so great this year that we haven't had a chance to react to it. Normally we're able to flush out the toxin with a treatment regimen ... This year they're just coming in dead."

Humans can't be harmed by swimming in algae blooms but consuming fish and shellfish tainted with the acid can cause nausea, seizures and even death.

The state Department of Health Services issued a warning against eating sport-harvested shellfish, anchovies, sardines, and both sports-harvested and commercially caught lobsters and crabs.

The warning came early this year. The advisory usually runs from May 1 to Oct. 31.
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