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Large increase in leakage of methane gas from the Arctic seabed
Methane is about 20 times more potent than CO2 in trapping solar heat.
Acting as a giant frozen depository of carbon such as CO2 and methane (often stored as compacted solid gas hydrates), Siberia's shallow shelf areas are increasingly subjected to warming and are now giving up greater amounts of methane to the sea and to the atmosphere than recorded in the past.
 
 
Published on Thursday, September 7, 2006 by the Associated Press
Scientists Find New Global Warming 'Time Bomb’
by Seth Borenstein
Methane bubbles trapped in lake ice in Siberia in early autumn.

Methane trapped in a special type of permafrost is bubbling up at rate five times faster than originally measured, according to a study in the Thursday, Sept. 6, 2006, issue of the journal Nature.

Some scientists believe that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even predicted in the most pessimistic forecasts.

Photo: AP/Nature, Katey Walter
Methane bubbles trapped in lake ice in Siberia in early autumn.
Methane trapped in a special type of permafrost is bubbling up at rate five times faster than originally measured, according to a study in the Thursday, Sept. 6, 2006, issue of the journal Nature.
Photo: AP/Nature, Katey Walter
WASHINGTON — Global warming gases trapped in the soil are bubbling out of the thawing permafrost in amounts far higher than previously thought and may trigger what researchers warn is a climate time bomb.
Methane — a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide — is being released from the permafrost at a rate five times faster than thought, according to a study being published today in the journal Nature. The findings are based on new, more accurate measuring techniques.
“The effects can be huge,” said lead author Katey Walter of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks said.   “It’s coming out a lot and there’s a lot more to come out.”
Scientists worry about a global warming vicious cycle that was not part of their already gloomy climate forecast: Warming already under way thaws permafrost, soil that has been continuously frozen for thousands of years.   Thawed permafrost releases methane and carbon dioxide.   Those gases reach the atmosphere and help trap heat on Earth in the greenhouse effect.   The trapped heat thaws more permafrost and so on.
“The higher the temperature gets, the more permafrost we melt, the more tendency it is to become a more vicious cycle,” said Chris Field, director of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who was not part of the study.   “That’s the thing that is scary about this whole thing.   There are lots of mechanisms that tend to be self-perpetuating and relatively few that tend to shut it off.”
Some scientists say this vicious cycle is already under way, but others disagree.
Most of the methane-releasing permafrost is in Siberia.   Another study earlier this summer in the journal Science found that the amount of carbon trapped in this type of permafrost — called yedoma — is much more prevalent than originally thought and may be 100 times the amount of carbon released into the air each year by the burning of fossil fuels.
The amount of carbon trapped in some types of permafrost — called yedoma — is much more prevalent than originally thought and may be 100 times the amount of carbon released into the air each year by the burning of fossil fuels

<Science
It won’t all come out at once or even over several decades, but if temperatures increase, then the methane and carbon dioxide will escape the soil, scientists say.
The permafrost issue has caused a quiet buzz of concern among climate scientists and geologists.   Specialists in Arctic climate are coming up with research plans to study the permafrost effect, which is not well understood or observed, said Robert Corell, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a study group of 300 scientists.
“It’s kind of like a slow-motion time bomb,” said Ted Schuur, a professor of ecosystem ecology at the University of Florida and co-author of the study in Science.
Most of the yedoma is in little-studied areas of northern and eastern Siberia.   What makes that permafrost special is that much of it lies under lakes; the carbon below gets released as methane.   Carbon beneath dry permafrost is released as carbon dioxide.
Using special underwater bubble traps, Walter and her colleagues found giant hot spots of bubbling methane that were never measured before because they were hard to reach.
“I don’t think it can be easily stopped; we’d really have to have major cooling for it to stop,” Walter said.
Scientists aren’t quite sure whether methane or carbon dioxide is worse.   Methane is far more powerful in trapping heat, but only lasts about a decade before it dissipates into carbon dioxide and other chemicals.   Carbon dioxide traps heat for about a century.
“The bottom line is it’s better if it stays frozen in the ground,” Schuur said.   “But we’re getting to the point where it’s going more and more into the atmosphere.”
Vladimir Romanovsky, geophysics professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, said he thinks the big methane or carbon dioxide release hasn’t started yet, but it’s coming.   In Alaska and Canada — which have far less permafrost than Siberia — it’s closer to happening, he said.   Already, the Alaskan permafrost is reaching the thawing point in many areas.
Common Dreams © 1997-2006
 
Thursday, 11 August 2005
Siberia's rapid thaw causes alarm
Tundra in Siberia, 

The whole western Siberian sub-Arctic region has started to thaw

Photo: AP
The whole western Siberian sub-Arctic region has started to thaw
The world's largest frozen peat bog is melting, which could speed the rate of global warming, New Scientist reports.
The huge expanse of western Siberia is thawing for the first time since its formation, 11,000 years ago.
The area, which is the size of France and Germany combined, could release billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
This could potentially act as a tipping point, causing global warming to snowball, scientists fear.
The situation is an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming," researcher Sergei Kirpotin, of Tomsk State University, Russia, told New Scientist magazine.
The whole western Siberian sub-Arctic region has started to thaw, he added, and this "has all happened in the last three or four years".
Warming fast
Western Siberia has warmed faster than almost anywhere on the planet, with average temperatures increasing by about 3C in the last 40 years.
The warming is believed to be due to a combination of man-made climate change, a cyclical atmospheric phenomenon known as the Arctic oscillation and feedbacks caused by melting ice.
When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable
David Viner, climate scientist
The 11,000-year-old bogs contain billions of tonnes of methane, most of which has been trapped in permafrost and deeper ice-like structures called clathrates.
But if the bogs melt, there is a big risk their hefty methane load could be dumped into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.
Scientists have reacted with alarm at the finding, warning that future global temperature predictions may have to be revised.
"When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable," David Viner, of the University of East Anglia, UK, told the Guardian newspaper.   "There are no brakes you can apply.
"This is a big deal because you can't put the permafrost back once it's gone.   The causal effect is human activity and it will ramp up temperatures even more than our emissions are doing."
The intergovernmental panel on climate change speculated in 2001 that global temperatures would rise between 1.4C and 5.8C between 1990 and 2100.
However these estimates only considered global warming sparked by known greenhouse gas emissions.
"These positive feedbacks with landmasses weren't known about then," Dr Viner said.   "They had no idea how much they would add to global warming.
Climate warning as Siberia melts
11 August 2005
NewScientist.com news service
Fred Pearce
THE world's largest frozen peat bog is melting.   An area stretching for a million square kilometres across the permafrost of western Siberia is turning into a mass of shallow lakes as the ground melts, according to Russian researchers just back from the region.
Tundra in Siberia
The whole western Siberian sub-Arctic region has started to thaw
The sudden melting of a bog the size of France and Germany combined could unleash billions of tonnes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
The news of the dramatic transformation of one of the world's least visited landscapes comes from Sergei Kirpotin, a botanist at Tomsk State University, Russia, and Judith Marquand at the University of Oxford.
Kirpotin describes an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming".   He says that the entire western Siberian sub-Arctic region has begun to melt, and this "has all happened in the last three or four years".
What was until recently a featureless expanse of frozen peat is turning into a watery landscape of lakes, some more than a kilometre across.   Kirpotin suspects that some unknown critical threshold has been crossed, triggering the melting.
Western Siberia has warmed faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with an increase in average temperatures of some 3 °C in the last 40 years.   The warming is believed to be a combination of man-made climate change, a cyclical change in atmospheric circulation known as the Arctic oscillation, plus feedbacks caused by melting ice, which exposes bare ground and ocean.   These absorb more solar heat than white ice and snow.
Similar warming has also been taking place in Alaska: earlier this summer Jon Pelletier of the University of Arizona in Tucson reported a major expansion of lakes on the North Slope fringing the Arctic Ocean.
The findings from western Siberia follow a report two months ago that thousands of lakes in eastern Siberia have disappeared in the last 30 years, also because of climate change (New Scientist, 11 June, p 16).   This apparent contradiction arises because the two events represent opposite end of the same process, known as thermokarsk.
In this process, rising air temperatures first create "frost-heave", which turns the flat permafrost into a series of hollows and hummocks known as salsas.   Then as the permafrost begins to melt, water collects on the surface, forming ponds that are prevented from draining away by the frozen bog beneath.   The ponds coalesce into ever larger lakes until, finally, the last permafrost melts and the lakes drain away underground.
Siberia's peat bogs formed around 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.   Since then they have been generating methane, most of which has been trapped within the permafrost, and sometimes deeper in ice-like structures known as clathrates.   Larry Smith of the University of California, Los Angeles, estimates that the west Siberian bog alone contains some 70 billion tonnes of methane, a quarter of all the methane stored on the land surface worldwide.
His colleague Karen Frey says if the bogs dry out as they warm, the methane will oxidise and escape into the air as carbon dioxide.   But if the bogs remain wet, as is the case in western Siberia today, then the methane will be released straight into the atmosphere.   Methane is 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.
In May this year, Katey Walter of the University of Alaska Fairbanks told a meeting in Washington of the Arctic Research Consortium of the US that she had found methane hotspots in eastern Siberia, where the gas was bubbling from thawing permafrost so fast it was preventing the surface from freezing, even in the midst of winter.
An international research partnership known as the Global Carbon Project earlier this year identified melting permafrost as a major source of feedbacks that could accelerate climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.   "Several hundred billion tonnes of carbon could be released," said the project's chief scientist, Pep Canadell of the CSIRO Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research in Canberra, Australia.
© 2005 Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
The world heated up by about 0.6 degrees last century, and the 1990s were the warmest decade on record, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says.

In Siberia's northernmost reaches, high up in the Arctic Circle, the changing temperature is thawing out the permafrost to reveal the bones of prehistoric animals like mammoths, woolly rhinos and lions that have been buried for thousands of years.

For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost.

Now climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.

Some scientists believe that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even predicted in the most pessimistic forecasts.

Graph: BBC
Source: Hadley Centre
The world heated up by about 0.6 degrees last century, and the 1990s were the warmest decade on record, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says.
Graph: BBC
                          To rebel is right, to disobey is a duty, to act is necessary !
Upping vehicle mileage should be made law
Tuesday 15th March 2005
Alaskan wildlife refuge must be saved

Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is again on the table in Congress, this time in the budget bill.
How many times must Americans say it?
Leave our wilderness alone!
Human beings need wilderness and open space.
Some years ago, a friend teaching at a rural Michigan campus invited high schoolers from Detroit to study ecology.
At first, the students were frightened and hesitant but the woods slowly drew them out.
They found things, camped out, stalked deer, sat and gazed and grew.
Nature changed them as much as any classroom, and without speaking a word to them.
The natural world sustains us all and not just with food and shelter.
We prove this when we "move out" to the suburbs, take vacations to national parks, and envision bubbling brooks when we are stressed out.
Our American "can do" independence results in large part from living in a country with rich open space. We reflect our land.
Places like the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge embody the heart of our land. They are places from which we draw strength as a people and renew our national soul as well as our individual spirits.
We may never set foot on the great coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, but we are nonetheless enriched by its presence.
Oil companies contend that new techniques will not harm the habitat and wildlife of this fragile area. This is simply not true.
Estimates suggest the need for 50-60 gravel drill sites and waste pits; three production facilities; three sea water treatment plants; three airports; 280 miles of roads, 10-15 gravel excavation sites; 150 miles of pipelines; and two solid waste disposal dumps.
The list goes on, to say nothing of the inevitable toxic spills of oil and waste (Prudehoe Bay averages a spill a day).
Proponents of drilling argue that we need this oil for national security. Really?
The U.S. Geological Survey concluded that, if there is substantial oil in the Refuge (there’s only a 50-50 chance there is enough to justify extraction costs), the amount will feed our "oil appetite" for only six to nine months.
Oil executives have testified it will be seven to 10 years before the oil can be processed and made available. Will our national security needs wait?
And what are our national security needs? America uses about 25 percent of the world’s available oil but has only 3 percent of the known reserves.
Some people, such as U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., suggest that obtaining oil from the refuge will decrease our dependence on foreign oil.
Recently, he said, "Our dependence on oil from the Middle East represents a grave national security threat." He should consider that we presently import only 13 percent of our oil from OPEC nations; the rest comes from Canada, Venezuela and other non-Persian Gulf states.
If refuge oil represents only four-tenths of a percent of the world’s reserves, then it clearly will not decrease our dependence. The way to end our addiction to foreign oil is to end our addiction to oil.
Our petroleum-based economy is neither safe nor sustainable. It pollutes our air and water, pits us against other countries in the effort to obtain it and is a finite resource.
What to do?
Conserve.
So long as we use oil, we must conserve what is available and make it last longer by using it wisely.
For instance, upping vehicle mileage requirements by just 3 miles per gallon could save more than a 1 million barrels of oil per day.
That’s five times the amount the refuge is likely to yield. "Hybrid” vehicles already are here, with long waiting lines of buyers.
We should develop alternative sources of clean energy. There’s a common myth that developing clean energy is too expensive and would cost jobs, but the opposite is true.
The Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois estimates that implementing a plan to "Repower the Midwest" with sustainable energy (primarily biomass and wind energy) would result in more than 200,000 new jobs across the 10-state Midwest region by 2020, generate up to $5.5 billion in additional worker income, and up to $20 billion in increased economic activity.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center, with other regional experts, has developed a blueprint for achieving this goal.
Our world is changing. We must change because our lives and livelihoods depend on it. Sacrificing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for a few barrels of oil makes no sense.
It’s like sending treasure down with a sinking ship.
Energy policy requires statesmanship and forward thinking.
Hopefully, our elected officials are thoughtful people who will carefully consider the issues.
On this one, they should search their hearts (and take a look at where politics is heading).
They will see that preserving the Arctic Refuge (and other wilderness areas) and calling for cleaner, more dependable energy sources is the right (and politically astute) thing to do.
They will find themselves in camp with the rest of us who have faith in American ingenuity and determination.
We are willing to tackle these tough issues.
Are they?
Christine Fiordalis is chairperson of the Sierra Club Michiana Group, Hoosier Chapter, and lives in South Bend.
Fax Congress to keep Arctic Refuge drilling out of the budget
http://www.nrdcaction.org/action/ index.asp?step=2&item=52526
by : CHRISTINE FIORDALIS
Tuesday 15th March 2005
 
Scientists say average global temperatures have varied by less than one degree since the dawn of human civilisation, although they fluctuated much more before that.

The International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, predicts a global rise of between 1.4C and 5.8C by the year 2100.

In Siberia's northernmost reaches, high up in the Arctic Circle, the changing temperature is thawing out the permafrost to reveal the bones of prehistoric animals like mammoths, woolly rhinos and lions that have been buried for thousands of years.

For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost.

Now climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.

Some scientists believe that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even predicted in the most pessimistic forecasts.

Graph: BBC
Source: IPCC
Scientists say average global temperatures have varied by less than one degree since the dawn of human civilisation, although they fluctuated much more before that.
The International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, predicts a global rise of between 1.4C and 5.8C by the year 2100.
Graph: BBC
Wednesday, 29 December, 2004
Earth's permafrost starts to squelch
By Molly Bentley
in San Francisco
Svalbard drilling in permafrost (Cardiff University)
There is now an active programme of permafrost monitoring
In parts of Fairbanks, Alaska, houses and buildings lean at odd angles.
Some slump as if sliding downhill. Windows and doors inch closer and closer to the ground.
It is an architectural landscape that is becoming more familiar as the world's ice-rich permafrost gives way to thaw.
Water replaces ice and the ground subsides, taking the structures on top along with it.
Alaska is not the only region in a slump. The permafrost melt is accelerating throughout the world's cold regions, scientists reported at the recent Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union(AGU) in San Francisco.
In addition to northern Alaska, the permafrost zone includes most other Arctic land, such as northern Canada and much of Siberia, as well as the higher reaches of mountainous regions such as the Alps and Tibet. All report permafrost thaw.
"It's a very, very widespread problem," said Frederick Nelson, a geographer at the University of Delaware, US.
Scientists attribute the thaw to climate warming. As the air temperature warms, so does the frozen ground beneath it.
Data quest
Will the Arctic be a carbon sink, or convert to a carbon source? It's a big unknown
Frederick Nelson, University of Delaware
The observations reiterate the recent findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, which attributed the northernpolar region's summer sea-ice loss and permafrost thaw to dramatic warming over the past half-century.
Thawing permafrost can cause buildings and roads to droop, and pipelines to crack.
Natural features are also affected. Scientists reported an increased frequency in landslides in the soil-based permafrost of Canada, and an increased instability and slope failures in mountainous regions, such as the Alps, where ice is locked in bedrock.
With the exception of Russia and its long history of permafrost monitoring, global records are insufficient — often too brief or scattered — to determine the precise extent of ice loss, said Dr Nelson.
However, monitoring programmes that are now much larger in scope, such as the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTNP),indicate a warming trend throughout the permafrost zone.
Boreholes in Svalbard, Norway, for example, indicate that ground temperatures rose 0.4C over the past decade, four times faster than they did in the previous century, according to Charles Harris, a geologist at the University of Cardiff, UK, and a coordinator of Permafrost and Climate in Europe (Pace), which is contributing data to the GTNP.
"What took a century to be achieved in the 20th Century will be achieved in 25 years in the 21st Century, if this trend continues," he said.
"It's a very, very widespread problem," said Frederick Nelson, a geographer at the University of Delaware, US.
Scientists attribute the thaw to climate warming. As the air temperature warms, so does the frozen ground beneath it.

EARTH'S FROZEN GROUND
Permafrost is permanent year-round frozen ground
Soils many cm below surface never rise above 0C
Only top few cm thaw in summer — "active layer"
Many regions have been like this for 1,000s of years
Major thaw changes water distribution in ecosystem
Sequestered carbon released; buildings destabilised
Data quest
The observations reiterate the recent findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, which attributed the northernpolar region's summer sea-ice loss and permafrost thaw to dramatic warming over the past half-century.
Thawing permafrost can cause buildings and roads to droop, and pipelines to crack.
Natural features are also affected. Scientists reported an increased frequency in landslides in the soil-based permafrost of Canada, and an increased instability and slope failures in mountainous regions, such as the Alps, where ice is locked in bedrock.
With the exception of Russia and its long history of permafrost monitoring, global records are insufficient — often too brief or scattered — to determine the precise extent of ice loss, said Dr Nelson.
However, monitoring programmes that are now much larger in scope, such as the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTNP),indicate a warming trend throughout the permafrost zone.
Boreholes in Svalbard, Norway, for example, indicate that ground temperatures rose 0.4C over the past decade, four times faster than they did in the previous century, according to Charles Harris, a geologist at the University of Cardiff, UK, and a coordinator of Permafrost and Climate in Europe (Pace), which is contributing data to the GTNP.
"What took a century to be achieved in the 20th Century will be achieved in 25 years in the 21st Century, if this trend continues," he said.
Reindeer (BBC)
Degraded permafrost will impact the migration routes of some Arctic species
Slip and slide
In Ellesmere Island, Canada, a combination of warmer temperatures and sunny days has triggered an increasing frequency of detachment events, or landslides, over the past 25 years, compared with the previous 75, according to Antoni Lewkowicz, professor of geography at the University of Ottawa.
A detachment event occurs on a slope when the bottom of the active layer — the layer of thawing and freezing ground above permafrost — becomes slick with melted ice, causing it to slide off from the permafrost below.
But in this case, the amount of temperature increase is not so important as the rate of increase, Dr Lewkowicz found.
Meltwater from ice that warms slowly drains away. When ice warms quickly, water pools, creating a frictionless surface between the active layer and the permafrost. Like a stroll across a sloping icy sidewalk, a fall is almost certain.
"We have records from this particular site for about 10 or 12 years," said Dr Lewkowicz. "The years when active layer detachments have taken place have been times when we've had this rapid thaw down at the bottom of the active layer."
The slides may cut a wide swath hundreds of metres across, but extend only 50 or 60cm deep.
"They're almost skin-like landslides, moving across the permafrost," said Dr Harris.
The exposed permafrost, warmed by the air, now produces a new active layer.
Sink to source
In steep mountainous regions, permafrost thaw can lead to slope failure and rock falls.
In these areas, the permafrost ice is in hard rock. Where rocks are jointed, the ice serves as a kind of cement holding them together.
When it melts, the rock loses its strength and falls. Adramatic example of this occurred during the European heatwave of 2003 when a huge block of the Matterhorn broke off suddenly, leaving Alpine climbers stranded.
"It's not just the general warming trend we need to worry about," said Dr Harris, "but these extreme seasonal events as well."
Permafrost thaw damaged building (ACIA)
Building codes will have to change if the thaw continues
Dr Nelson says that with human-built structures, proper engineering and land use can mitigate permafrost loss.
Tingun Zhang, a researcher at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, reported at the AGU on the particular challenge slumping ground presents to the construction of the Qinghai-Xizang railroad across Tibet, perhaps the most ambitious permafrost-zone project since the Trans-Alaskan pipeline.
Nearly half the railroad will lie across permafrost, and temperatures in the region are expected to rise during this century.
Engineers are using a simple — and long established — trick of cooling the permafrost with crushed rock. Rocks minimise heatintake in summer and promote heat loss in winter.
It is the first time a large-scale project is using the crushed-rock method as its primary solution, according to Dr Zhang.
But not all outcomes of permafrost thaw have precedent, or an immediate solution. One considerable variable is the possible release into the air of organic carbon stored in the permafrost.
In the drier areas, most of the emissions would be in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). But in the wetter areas, it would be methane, a more effective greenhouse gas.
Scientists do not know exactly how much carbon is sequestered in the permafrost regions, but estimates show it could be up to a quarter of the sequestered carbon on Earth, 14% of it in the Arctic, alone.
"Will the Arctic be a carbon sink, or convert to a carbon source?" posed Dr Nelson. "It's a big unknown."
Planet Under Pressure

A six-part series looking at the biggest problems facing the Earth

Introducing Planet Under Pressure

PART 5: CLIMATE CHANGE

Entering uncharted waters?
Rising tides
Life in Bangladesh's low-lying Ganges delta.

PART 6: FIGHTING POLLUTION

Pollution: A life and death issue
Child on nebuliser in south DurbanFight for clean air
Durban poor take the pollution issue into their own hands
Photojournal: Living with pollution
Map: Pollution hotspots
Quiz: Are you pollution-savvy?

COMPETITION
Green and pleasant
Enter our contest — design an eco-friendly garden

FEATURES
ChimneyChanging Earth — In pictures: Your changing world
Readers' pictures of the effects of pollution and climate change

Your eco-friendly garden designs
"How I'd change the world..."

SECTIONS
Part 1: Species under threat
Part 2: World water crisis
Part 3: Soaring energy demand
Part 4: Can the planet feed us?
Part 5: Tackling climate change
Part 6: Facing climate change


RELATED BBC LINKS:
Global warming?
2015 — Where will we be?

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
AGU Fall Meeting 2004
Frederick Nelson
Permafrost and Climate in Europe Project
Arctic Council
UNEP — chemicals programme
World Health Organisation
European Chemical Industry Council
WWF — Toxic chemicals
Environmental Protection Agency
 
Rising temperatures are thought to cause sea levels to rise as the oceans expand and polar ice melts. 

The International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, says sea levels rose between 10 and 20cm worldwide during the 20th Century.

It predicts a further rise of between 9cm and 88cm by 2100.

In Siberia's northernmost reaches, high up in the Arctic Circle, the changing temperature is thawing out the permafrost to reveal the bones of prehistoric animals like mammoths, woolly rhinos and lions that have been buried for thousands of years.

For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost.

Now climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.

Some scientists believe that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even predicted in the most pessimistic forecasts.

Graph: BBC
Source: UNEP
Rising temperatures are thought to cause sea levels to rise as the oceans expand and polar ice melts.
The International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, says sea levels rose between 10 and 20cm worldwide during the 20th Century.
It predicts a further rise of between 9cm and 88cm by 2100.
Graph: BBC
                          To rebel is right, to disobey is a duty, to act is necessary !
The weather has become ’uggianaqtuq’
Saturday 23rd April 2005
Forecast Earth: Alaska Meltdown
How is global warming affecting the Alaskan climate?
Global warming in Alaska?
By Dr. Heidi Cullen, Climate Expert at:  The Weather Channel — Wed, Sept. 1, 2004
Editor’s Note: In May 2004, Dr. Heidi Cullen, climate expert at The Weather Channel, took off for Alaska to investigate the issue of global warming first hand.  The following report is a portion of what she discovered.
It’s tempting to ask: "What does Alaska have to do with global warming?"
The answer is simple.
When you live in a place where there is a lot of snow and ice, even a change of 1° Fahrenheit is big.
It can mean the difference between frozen and not frozen.
In fact, the impacts of climate change are more obvious in Alaska than anywhere else in the United States.
Many think of the state as a ’canary in a coalmine’.
Globally, Earth’s average surface temperature has increased about 1 to 1.5° Fahrenheit over the last century.
The majority of scientists believe that this temperature increase is associated with burning fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels like oil and gas release carbon dioxide (CO2) when combusted — adding to the greenhouse effect.
Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, occur naturally.
In fact, without the greenhouse effect, Earth’s average surface temperature would be near 0°F.
The greenhouse gases that make up our atmosphere help keep Earth’s thermostat set at a comfortable and life-sustaining 59°F.
But carbon dioxide is increasing; scientists have measured a 31 percent increase in CO2 since 1750.
When carbon dioxide increases, temperatures go up with it.
A significant portion of the observed CO2 is because of human activities, like burning coal to produce electricity.
In 1860, atmospheric CO2 was 280 parts per million, 2004 levels have reached 379 parts per million.
So while carbon dioxide is a good thing, at the moment we have too much of a good thing — and it’s pushing our planet into warmer territory.
Scientists have long predicted that global warming will become visible in the form of different climate impacts.
We wanted to see these impacts for ourselves — that’s why we went to Alaska.  We wanted to hear about global warming from people who live there and have seen it for themselves.
The weather has become ’uggianaqtuq’
The weather has become ’uggianaqtuq’:  For centuries, native people in the Arctic have built their lives around the snow and ice.
A central part of their traditional culture is hunting and fishing.  This requires an intimate knowledge of weather and climate.
Uggianaqtuq (OOG-gi-a-nak-took) is a North Baffin Inuktitut word that means to behave unexpectedly, or in an unfamiliar way.
From the perspective of many hunters and elders in the Arctic, the weather has become uggianaqtuq — a stranger — in recent years.
For the Inupiat Eskimo of Barrow, the sea ice skirting the Arctic Ocean has been a vital friend for hundreds of years.
But it, too, is becoming a stranger — an increasingly thin stranger.
Indeed, scientists have measured a 30 percent decrease in Arctic sea ice over the past 30 years, making it a lot more dangerous to hunt whales.
The melting of sea ice affects much more than whaling.
Some scientists predict it will lead to a seasonal opening of the Northwest Passage, offering a potential trade route with Asia.
Ideally, ships need about 60 days of ice-free conditions for trade and scientists say this might happen within 10 years.
Animal populations in the Last Frontier are also at risk.
As the ice disappears, so does the home of the polar bear.
Some estimate the polar bear may be extinct in a few decades as the ice it lives on eventually disappears.
In fact, wildlife all across Alaska is changing.
Just by observing caribou migration patterns and bear behavior, it’s easy to see that Alaska is beginning to look very different from the way many people remember.
Eighty-five percent is permafrost
The fundamental science of global warming is solid, but in Fairbanks, the ground that some Alaskans stand on is not.
The ground in Alaska isn’t like the ground in the lower 48.
Eighty-five percent is permafrost — soil hardened with ice. Land transportation in Alaska is often over permafrost, which is defined as soil, rock, or sediment that has remained below 32°F for two or more years.
Increasing temperatures are making it tough to travel these routes and its expected this will only get worse as temperatures continue to rise.
The number of days each year that oil and gas exploration and extraction equipment is approved for use by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources across remote regions the tundra has gone down from over 200 to about 100 in the past 30 years.
These changes are also affecting the 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
The pipeline was originally built in 1977 for $8 billion to transport oil from the North Slope of Alaska to Port Valdez. Because roughly 75 percent of the territory covered by the pipeline is permafrost, 420 miles run above ground on vertical supports to avoid thawing the ground.
Scientists have cautioned that warming temperatures could likely compromise the integrity of the pipeline.
Because the vertical supports are drilled to depths of 15 to 70 feet — there is a concern that roughly one-third of the supports may be moving as a result of warming temperatures and thawing permafrost.
Replacing a vertical support is estimated to cost upwards of $85,000 apiece.
And it gets worse.
As the permafrost thaws, massive amounts of CO2 and methane will be released into the atmosphere.
Both are primary greenhouse gases, and are expected to further aggravate the global warming trend.
Over the next 100 years, climate change is projected to continue.
Climate models indicate permafrost degradation in the Arctic may occur over 10-20 percent of the present permafrost area, and the southern limit of this frozen soil is projected to shift northward by hundreds of miles.
Erosion evicts entire town:  Waves are another weapon in the arsenal of climate impacts that are changing Alaska.
For example, the town of Shishmaref, home to a little less than 600, sits on a barrier island at the westernmost part of Alaska.
This barrier island is being swallowed by the sea at the rate of up to 125 feet a year.
And it’s taking Shishmaref with it.
In Alaska, coastal erosion is a major problem because most of the shoreline consists of permafrost covered by tundra.
Normally, permafrost melts only at the surface during the summer and then refreezes in the winter.
But now, due to global warming, the summer melt goes deeper into the permafrost and ends up lasting well into the fall.
In addition, sea ice forms later in the season.
Sea ice serves as a protective lid
Sea ice serves as a protective lid for ocean waves by helping to keep big waves in check.
But now, when storms barrel through in September and October they remain over open water.
These waves break onto the coast where thawed permafrost is vulnerable.
Warmer temperatures degrade frozen soils and sea ice, providing a perfect example of how something can feed off itself and gain strength.
Less sea ice means stronger storms which further degrade and eat away the permafrost coastline.
The shoreline doesn’t stand a chance against higher sea level and big waves, not to mention the communities built on a crumbling permafrost foundation.
Shishmaref is just one example but it’s not the only one.
Residents of Shishmaref, and the nearby town of Kivalina, are trying to gather the funding to dismantle these communities and move them to more solid ground.
But this comes with a steep price tag.
The cost of moving Shishmaref has been estimated at $100 million — more than $100,000 per resident.
Right now, residents are spending all of their energy on preserving their traditions and moving their people to safer ground.
In only 15 years, the Spruce Bark Beetle killed more trees in Alaska than any other North American insect.
Warming increases extreme events:  This summer set new temperature records in Alaska.
June 2004 was the warmest June in recorded history, coming in more than 5° Fahrenheit above the 1971- 2000 average.
While it may be tempting to just blame this on global warming, it would be incorrect.
Extreme weather happens with or without global warming.
What global warming does is increase the odds of seeing extreme events like the record heat in Alaska this summer.
You might think warmer temperatures would be beneficial for the large tracts of forests that cover much of southern Alaska.
But, in fact, Alaska’s forests are hurting.
A long run of warmer temperatures has paved the way for a small beetle to devastate these beautiful forests.
The spruce bark beetle, which lives in and feeds on trees that drape the Kenai Peninsula, has killed more trees in Alaska over the past 15 years than any other insect in North American history.
The beetles need 60° Fahrenheit temperatures to successfully fly from one tree to the next.
That’s why the cool, damp weather that used to blanket the Kenai Peninsula won’t let a bark beetle infestation to last very long.
And if that doesn’t work, a hard, cold spring will kill off an infestation.
Young trees protected themselves by producing enough sap to drive out this parasite.
But that’s all changed.
The trees are no match for the spruce bark beetle and the resulting number of casualties has been high:  roughly 4 million acres of spruce trees in southern Alaska are gone.
Throughout the 1990s, as Alaska warmed and the hard springs didn’t appear, the bark beetles were unstoppable.
They managed to thrive on a string of abnormally warm winters in southern Alaska since 1987.
The only reason the bark beetles are contained now is that they’ve literally eaten themselves out of house and home; there simply aren’t any trees left.
And there are signs that Alaska’s warming climate is allowing more pests to thrive, which may mean more infestations for Alaska’s virgin wilderness.
http://www.nrdcaction.org/action/ index.asp?step=2&item=52526
by : Dr. Heidi Cullen Saturday 23rd April 2005
 
According to the International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, North Pole sea-ice has thinned by 40% in recent decades in summer and autumn.

Global snow cover has shrunk by 10% since the 1960s and mountain glaciers have also retreated.

In Siberia's northernmost reaches, high up in the Arctic Circle, the changing temperature is thawing out the permafrost to reveal the bones of prehistoric animals like mammoths, woolly rhinos and lions that have been buried for thousands of years.

For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost.

Now climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.

Some scientists believe that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even predicted in the most pessimistic forecasts.

Graph: BBC
Source: UNEP
According to the International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, North Pole sea-ice has thinned by 40% in recent decades in summer and autumn.
Global snow cover has shrunk by 10% since the 1960s and mountain glaciers have also retreated.
Graph: BBC
Note!        Due to threat of filibuster, the sharply divided Senate has removed the drilling provision from year's budget for two years in a row now.
It continues.
 
Published on Wednseday, March 16, 2005 by the Associated Press
Senate Votes to Open Alaskan Oil Drilling
by H Josef Hebert
How Did Your Senators Vote?
Roll Call 52: To strike section 201(a)(4) relative to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Yea 49
Ban Drilling
Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Carper (D-DE)
Chafee (R-RI)
Clinton (D-NY)
Coleman (R-MN)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Corzine (D-NJ)
Dayton (D-MN)
DeWine (R-OH)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Harkin (D-IA)
Jeffords (I-VT)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Kohl (D-WI)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (D-CT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
McCain (R-AZ)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Obama (D-IL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Sarbanes (D-MD)
Schumer (D-NY)
Smith (R-OR)
Snowe (R-ME)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Wyden (D-OR)
Nay 51
Allow Drilling
Akaka (D-HI)
Alexander (R-TN)
Allard (R-CO)
Allen (R-VA)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burns (R-MT)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Craig (R-ID)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Dole (R-NC)
Domenici (R-NM)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Frist (R-TN)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hagel (R-NE)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Inouye (D-HI)
Isakson (R-GA)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lott (R-MS)
Lugar (R-IN)
Martinez (R-FL)
McConnell (R-KY)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Roberts (R-KS)
Santorum (R-PA)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Specter (R-PA)
Stevens (R-AK)
Sununu (R-NH)
Talent (R-MO)
Thomas (R-WY)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (R-VA)
WASHINGTON — Amid the backdrop of soaring oil and gasoline prices, a sharply divided Senate on Wednesday voted to open the ecologically rich Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling, delivering a major energy policy win for President Bush.
The Senate, by a 51-49 vote, rejected an attempt by Democrats and GOP moderates to remove a refuge drilling provision from next year's budget, preventing opponents from using a filibuster — a tactic that has blocked repeated past attempts to open the Alaska refuge to oil companies.
The action, assuming Congress agrees on a budget, clears the way for approving drilling in the refuge later this year, drilling supporters said.  The House has not included a similar provision in its budget, so the issue is still subject to negotiations later this year to resolve the difference.
The oil industry has sought for more than two decades to get access to what is believed to be billions of barrels of oil beneath the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the northern eastern corner of Alaska.
Drilling supporters acknowledged after the vote that for refuge development to get final approval Congress must still pass a final budget with the Senate provision included, something Congress was unable to do last year.
Still, "this is a big step," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who said he had tried for 24 years to open the refuge, but failed because Democrats blocked the effort through filibusters.  The budget is immune from a filibuster, meaning drilling supporters will need only a majority — not the 60 votes required to break a filibuster — to succeed when the issue comes up for final action later this year.
Environmentalists have fought such development and argued that despite improved environmental controls a web of pipelines and drilling platforms would harm calving caribou, polar bears and millions of migratory birds that use the coastal plain.
Bush has called tapping the reserve's oil a critical part of the nation's energy security and a way to reduce America's reliance on imported oil, which account for more than half of the 20 million barrels of crude use daily.
It's "a way to get some additional reserves here at home on the books," Bush said Wednesday.
The Alaska refuge could supply as much as 1 million barrels day at peak production, drilling supporters said.  But they acknowledge that even if ANWR's oil is tapped, it would have no impact on soaring oil prices and tight supplies.  The first lease sales would not be issued until 2007, followed by development seven to 10 years later, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said.
"We won't see this oil for 10 years.  It will have minimal impact," argued Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a co-sponsor of the amendment that would have stripped the arctic refuge provision from the budget document.  It is "foolish to say oil development and a wildlife refuge can coexist," she said.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., argued that more oil would be saved if Congress enacted an energy policy focusing on conservation, more efficient cars and trucks and increased reliance on renewable fuels and expanded oil development in the deep-water Gulf where there are significant reserves.
"The fact is (drilling in ANWR) is going to be destructive," said Kerry.
But drilling proponents argued that modern drilling technology can safeguard the refuge and still tap the likely — though not yet certain — 10.4 billion barrels of crude in the refuge.
The vote Wednesday contrasted with the last time the Senate took up the ANWR drilling issue two years ago.  Then, an attempt to include it in the budget was defeated.  But drilling supporters gained strength last November when Republicans picked up three additional seats, all senators who favored drilling in the refuge.
Opponents of drilling complained that Republicans this time were trying "an end run" by attaching the refuge provisions to the budget, a tactic that would allow the measure to pass with a majority vote.
The 19-million-acre refuge was set aside for protection by President Eisenhower in 1960, but Congress in 1980 said its 1.5 million acre coastal plain could be opened to oil development if Congress specifically authorizes it.
The House has repeatedly passed measures over the years to allow drilling in ANWR only to see the legislation stalled in the Senate.  But last week, the House refused to include an ANWR provision in its budget document, although any differences between the Senate and House versions would likely be resolved in negotiations.
Drilling supporters argued that access to the refuge's oil was a matter of national security and that modern drilling technology would protect the region's wildlife.
Environmentalists contended that while new technologies have reduced the drilling footprint, ANWR's coastal plain still would contain a spider web of pipelines that would disrupt calving caribou and disturb polar bears, musk oxen and the annual influx of millions of migratory birds.
Copyright © 2005 Associated Press
 
Most mainstream scientists believe that increased emissions of greenhouse cases, particularly carbon dioxide, are contributing to the warming of the planet.

This graph shows how carbon dioxide levels have increased as the world has industrialised.

In Siberia's northernmost reaches, high up in the Arctic Circle, the changing temperature is thawing out the permafrost to reveal the bones of prehistoric animals like mammoths, woolly rhinos and lions that have been buried for thousands of years.

For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost.

Now climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.

Some scientists believe that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even predicted in the most pessimistic forecasts.

Graph: BBC
Source: UNEP
Most mainstream scientists believe that increased emissions of greenhouse cases, particularly carbon dioxide, are contributing to the warming of the planet.
This graph shows how carbon dioxide levels have increased as the world has industrialised.
Graph: BBC
 
Published on Wednesday, February 22, 2006 by CommonDreams.org<
Hotter, Faster, Worser
by John Atcheson
Over the past several months, the normally restrained voice of science has taken on a distinct note of panic when it comes to global warming.
Arctic boom town of Hammerfest
How did we go from debating the "uncertainty" behind climate science to near hysterical warnings from normally sober scientists about irrevocable and catastrophic consequences?
Two reasons.
First, there hasn’t been any real uncertainty in the scientific community for more than a decade.
An unholy alliance of key fossil fuel corporations and conservative politicians have waged a sophisticated and well-funded misinformation campaign to create doubt and controversy in the face of nearly universal scientific consensus.
In this, they were aided and abetted by a press which loved controversy more than truth, and by the Bush administration, which has systematically tried to distort the science and silence and intimidate government scientists who sought to speak out on global warming.
But the second reason is that the scientific community failed to adequately anticipate and model several positive feedback loops that profoundly amplify the rate and extent of human-induced climate change.
And in the case of global warming, positive feedback loops can have some very negative consequences.
The plain fact is, we are fast approaching — and perhaps well past — several tipping points which would make global warming irreversible.
Liquefied natural gas carrier
In an editorial in the Baltimore Sun on December 15th, 2004 this author outlined one such tipping point: a self-reinforcing feedback loop in which higher temperatures caused methane — a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas (GHG) — to escape from ice-like structures called clathrates, which raised the temperature which caused more methane to be released and so on.
Even though there was strong evidence that this mechanism had contributed to at least two extreme warming events in the geologic past, the scientific community hadn’t yet focused on methane ices in 2004.
Even among the few pessimists who had, we believed — or hoped — that we had a decade or so before anything like it began happening again.
We were wrong.
In August of 2005 a team of scientists from Oxford and Tomsk University in Russia announced that a massive Siberian peat bog the size of Germany and France combined was melting, releasing billions of tons of methane as it did.
The last time it got warm enough to set off this feedback loop was 55 million years ago in a period known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM, when increased volcanic activity released enough GHGs to trigger a series of self-reinforcing methane burps.
The resulting warming caused massive die-offs and it took more than a 100,000 years for the earth to recover.
It’s looks like we’re on the verge of triggering a far worse event.
Seed vault in a cavern under a remote Norwegian Arctic mountain
The entrance to the Arctic Seed Vault.

In a cavern under a remote Arctic mountain, Norway will soon begin squirreling away the world's crop seeds in case of disaster.

Dynamited out of a mountainside on Spitsbergen island around 1,000 km (600 miles) from the North Pole, the store has been called a doomsday vault or a Noah's Ark of the plant kingdom. 

The European Space Agency said nearly 200 satellite photos this month taken together showed an ice-free passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland, and ice retreating to its lowest level since such images were first taken in 1978.

Arctic ice has shrunk to the lowest level on record, new satellite images show, raising the possibility that the Northwest Passage that eluded famous explorers will become an open shipping lane.

The 16 September 2007 Arctic minimum ice extent falls below the minimum set on 20-21 September 2005 by an area roughly the size of Texas and California combined, or nearly five UKs.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center, NSIDC, judges the ice extent on a five-day mean.

Arctic sea ice shrank to the smallest area on record in 2007, US scientists have confirmed.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said the minimum extent of 4.13 million sq km (1.59 million sq miles) was reached on 16 September, 2007.

The figure shatters all previous satellite surveys, including the previous record low of 5.32 million sq km measured in 2005.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the Northwest Passage was open.

Image: Global Crop Diversity Trust/Mari Tefre

The entrance to the Arctic Seed Vault.
In a cavern under a remote Arctic mountain, Norway will soon begin squirreling away the world's crop seeds in case of disaster.
Dynamited out of a mountainside on Spitsbergen island around 1,000 km (600 miles) from the North Pole, the store has been called a doomsday vault or a Noah's Ark of the plant kingdom.
The European Space Agency said nearly 200 satellite photos this month taken together showed an ice-free passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland, and ice retreating to its lowest level since such images were first taken in 1978.
Arctic ice has shrunk to the lowest level on record, new satellite images show, raising the possibility that the Northwest Passage that eluded famous explorers will become an open shipping lane.
The 16 September 2007 Arctic minimum ice extent falls below the minimum set on 20-21 September 2005 by an area roughly the size of Texas and California combined, or nearly five UKs.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center, NSIDC, judges the ice extent on a five-day mean.
Arctic sea ice shrank to the smallest area on record in 2007, US scientists have confirmed.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said the minimum extent of 4.13 million sq km (1.59 million sq miles) was reached on 16 September, 2007.
The figure shatters all previous satellite surveys, including the previous record low of 5.32 million sq km measured in 2005.
Earlier this month, it was reported that the Northwest Passage was open.
Photo: Global Crop Diversity Trust/Mari Tefre
Image inserted by TheWE.cc
At a recent meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Sciences in St. Louis, James Zachos, foremost expert on the PETM reported that greenhouse gasses are accumulating in the atmosphere at thirty times the speed with which they did during the PETM.
We may have just witnessed the first salvo in what could prove to be an irreversible trip to hell on earth.
There are other positive feedback loops we’ve failed to anticipate.
For example, the heat wave in Europe that killed 35,000 people in 2003 also damaged European woodlands, causing them to release more carbon dioxide, the main GHG, than they sequester — exactly the opposite of the assumptions built into our models, which treat forests as sponges that sop up excess carbon.
The same thing is happening to a number of other ecosystems that our models and scientists have treated as carbon sinks.
The Amazon rainforest, the boreal forests (one of the largest terrestrial carbon sinks in the planet), and soils in temperate areas are all releasing more carbon than they are absorbing, due to global warming-induced droughts, diseases, pest activity, and metabolic changes.
In short, many of the things we treat as carbon sponges in our models aren’t sopping up excess carbon; they’re being wrung out and releasing extra carbon.
The polar ice cap is also melting far faster than models predict, setting off another feedback loop.
Less ice means more open water, which absorbs more heat which means less ice, and so on.
Planet Mars permafrost and ancient bacteria
Even worse, we’ve substantially underestimated the rate at which continental glaciers are melting.
Climate change models predicted that it would take more than 1,000 years for Greenland’s ice sheet to melt.
But at the AAAS meeting in St. Louis, NASA’s Eric Rignot outlined the results of a study that shows Greenland’s ice cover is breaking apart and flowing into the sea at rates far in excess of anything scientists predicted, and it’s accelerating each year.
If (or when) Greenland’s ice cover melts, it will raise sea levels by 21 feet — enough to inundate nearly every sea port in America.
In the Antarctic seas, another potentially devastating feedback loop is taking place.
Populations of krill have plummeted by 80% in the last few years due to loss of sea ice.
Krill are the single most important species in the marine foodchain, and they also extract massive amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere.
No one predicted their demise, but the ramifications for both global warming and the health of marine ecosystems are disastrous.
This, too, will likely feed on itself, as less krill means more carbon stays in the atmosphere, which means warmer seas, which means less ice, which means less krill and so on in a massive negative spiral.
One of our preeminent planetary scientists, James Lovelock, believes that in the not too distant future humans will be restricted to a relatively few breeding pairs in Antarctica.
It would be comfortable to dismiss Professor Lovelock as a doom and gloom crazy, but that would be a mistake.
Spit on our bones and curse our names
A little over a year ago at the conclusion of a global conference in Exeter England on Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, scientists warned that if we allowed atmospheric concentrations of GHG to exceed 400 ppm, we could trigger serious and irreversible consequences.
Skeleton of a mammoth
A boy looks at the skeleton of a mammoth in the Ice Age Museum in Moscow September 4, 2007.

In Siberia's northernmost reaches, high up in the Arctic Circle, the changing temperature is thawing out the permafrost to reveal the bones of prehistoric animals like mammoths, woolly rhinos and lions that have been buried for thousands of years.

The European Space Agency said nearly 200 satellite photos this month taken together showed an ice-free passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland, and ice retreating to its lowest level since such images were first taken in 1978.

Arctic ice has shrunk to the lowest level on record, new satellite images show, raising the possibility that the Northwest Passage that eluded famous explorers will become an open shipping lane.

The 16 September 2007 Arctic minimum ice extent falls below the minimum set on 20-21 September 2005 by an area roughly the size of Texas and California combined, or nearly five UKs.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center, NSIDC, judges the ice extent on a five-day mean.

Arctic sea ice shrank to the smallest area on record in 2007, US scientists have confirmed.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said the minimum extent of 4.13 million sq km (1.59 million sq miles) was reached on 16 September, 2007.

The figure shatters all previous satellite surveys, including the previous record low of 5.32 million sq km measured in 2005.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the Northwest Passage was open.

Image: Global Crop Diversity Trust/Mari Tefre

A boy looks at the skeleton of a mammoth in the Ice Age Museum in Moscow September 4, 2007.
In Siberia's northernmost reaches, high up in the Arctic Circle, the changing temperature is thawing out the permafrost to reveal the bones of prehistoric animals like mammoths, woolly rhinos and lions that have been buried for thousands of years.
The European Space Agency said nearly 200 satellite photos this month taken together showed an ice-free passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland, and ice retreating to its lowest level since such images were first taken in 1978.
Arctic ice has shrunk to the lowest level on record, new satellite images show, raising the possibility that the Northwest Passage that eluded famous explorers will become an open shipping lane.
The 16 September 2007 Arctic minimum ice extent falls below the minimum set on 20-21 September 2005 by an area roughly the size of Texas and California combined, or nearly five UKs.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center, NSIDC, judges the ice extent on a five-day mean.
Arctic sea ice shrank to the smallest area on record in 2007, US scientists have confirmed.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said the minimum extent of 4.13 million sq km (1.59 million sq miles) was reached on 16 September, 2007.
The figure shatters all previous satellite surveys, including the previous record low of 5.32 million sq km measured in 2005.
Earlier this month, it was reported that the Northwest Passage was open.
Photo: Global Crop Diversity Trust/Mari Tefre
Image inserted by TheWE.cc
We passed that milestone in 2005 with little notice and no fanfare.
The scientific uncertainty in global warming isn’t about whether it’s occurring or whether it’s caused by human activity, or even if it will "cost" us too much to deal with it now.
That’s all been settled.
Scientists are now debating whether it’s too late to prevent planetary devastation, or whether we have yet a small window to forestall the worst effects of global warming.
Our children may forgive us the debts we’re passing on to them, they may forgive us if terrorism persists, they may forgive us for waging war instead of pursuing peace, they may even forgive us for squandering the opportunity to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle.
But they will spit on our bones and curse our names if we pass on a world that is barely habitable when it was in our power to prevent it.
And they will be right to do so.
Common Dreams © 1997-2006
 
This map, from the UK’s Hadley Centre, assumes that current emissions
trends continue, with moderate economic growth and few measures to reduce emissions.

It predicts the greatest rises in northern polar regions, India, Africa and parts of South America.

In Siberia's northernmost reaches, high up in the Arctic Circle, the changing temperature is thawing out the permafrost to reveal the bones of prehistoric animals like mammoths, woolly rhinos and lions that have been buried for thousands of years.

For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost.

Now climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.

Some scientists believe that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even predicted in the most pessimistic forecasts.

Graph: BBC
Source: Hadley Center
This map, from the UK’s Hadley Centre, assumes that current emissions trends continue, with moderate economic growth and few measures to reduce emissions.
It predicts the greatest rises in northern polar regions, India, Africa and parts of South America.
Some scientists believe that as permafrost organic matter becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even predicted in the most pessimistic forecasts.
Graph: BBC
       Big melt warning for Arctic       
       Area covered by sea ice in Arctic shrunk for fourth consecutive year      
       Thermohaline shutdown inevitable       
 
 
 
 
 
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