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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada had its warmest year on record in 2010, according to the country's environmental agency, with the biggest impact seen in the Arctic region.
The national average temperature for the year was 3 degrees Celsius above normal, based on preliminary data, according to a report put on Environment Canada's website on Monday. That made it the warmest year since nationwide records began in 1948.
Most areas of the northern territory of Nunavut and of northern Quebec were at least 4 degrees above normal, while the Arctic tundra region was 4.3 degrees above normal. Along with the Arctic tundra, the Arctic mountains and fiords, the northeastern forest and Atlantic regions also had the warmest year on record.
Scientists link the higher temperatures in the Arctic to the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. Global warming is gradually melting the Arctic ice cap, raising the possibility of increased shipping and mining in the environmentally sensitive region.
"What we're seeing is clearly a trend and the changes in the north seem to be becoming permanent," said John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club Canada.
"We're looking at a month or so less winter in the north."
The previous warmest year was 1998, which was 2.5 degrees above normal, according to the data. Annual temperatures have been above normal since 1997.
"Although any one year's temperature anomaly isn't proof of any long-term trend, having a year this much warmer than any previous year is significant," Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson said in an e-mailed statement.
An area of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan was the only part of Canada with close to normal temperatures last year, the data showed.
Canada's minority Conservative government has come under fire for its environmental policy, which critics say favors the interests of the Alberta oil sands, the largest source of crude outside Saudi Arabia. Environmentalists say the oil sands are a huge source of greenhouse gases and toxic waste.
Newly appointed Environment Minister Peter Kent recently sparked controversy by characterizing the development of the oil sands as "ethical" in media interviews.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; editing by Peter Galloway