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I'm stealing this, so don't tell anyone. But it's on the web at http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/discoveries/2006-09-06-permafrost-warming_x.htm
so you can see it there too.
Scientists find new global warming threat from melting permafrost
By Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — New research is raising concerns that global warming may be triggering a self-perpetuating climate time bomb trapped in once-frozen permafrost.
As the Earth warms, greenhouse gases once stuck in the long-frozen soil are bubbling into the atmosphere in much larger amounts than previously anticipated, according to a study in Thursday's journal Nature.
Methane trapped in a special type of permafrost is bubbling up at a rate five times faster than originally measured, the journal said.
Scientists are fretting about a global warming vicious cycle that had not been part of their already gloomy climate forecasts: Warming already underway thaws permafrost, soil that had 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. "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 tends to shut it off."
The effect reported in Nature is seen mostly in Siberia, but also elsewhere, in a type of carbon-rich permafrost, flash frozen about 40,000 years ago. A new more accurate measuring technique was used on the bubbling methane, which is 23 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than the more prevalent carbon dioxide.
"The effects can be huge," said lead author Katey Walter of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. "It's coming out a lot and there's a lot more to come out."
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.
It won't all come out at once or even over several decades, but the methane and carbon dioxide will escape the soil if temperatures increase, scientists say.
The issue of methane and carbon dioxide released from permafrost has caused concern this summer among climate scientists and geologists. Specialists in Arctic climate are coming up with research plans to study the effect, which is not well understood or observed, said Robert Corell, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a 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 Science study. "There's these big surprises out there that we don't even know about."
Most of this yedoma is in north and eastern Siberia, areas that until recently had not been studied at length by scientists.
What makes this permafrost special is that during a rapid onset ice age, carbon-rich plants were trapped in the permafrost. As the permafrost thaws, the carbon is released as methane if it's underwater in lakes, like much of the parts of Siberia that Walter studied. If it's dry, it's released into the air as carbon dioxide.
Scientists aren't quite sure which 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. It's closer in Alaska and Canada, which only has a few hundred square miles of yedoma, he said.
In Siberia, the many lakes of melted water make matters worse because the water, although cold, helps warm and thaw the permafrost, Walter said.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press
Now the only point I think in this that has not been made correctly is that it says this will not happen quickly....But I have seen those methane hydrates dissipate and it is explosive. So I think it will happen suddenly, at a certain tipping point of temperature, which may have already been reached.
I think the permafrost is gone for good, and that feedback loop is in full swing. We can't refreeze it now. Only another ice age can do that. But another article said if the permafrost goes, and methane is released into the atmosphere, expect an increase of 5-10 degrees centigrade, or 15-33 degrees fahrenheit! And that is on average. That means the extremes, already at 120 F could be at 150F and higher, which I think is beyond survivability. But if the high temp on a day is 150 F what is the "cool" temperature? 120F? And how long does that last? And what does it go down to when it "cools" off?
I dunno if you ever saw the old old movie called THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE, about the planet off its orbit and slowly heading in towards the sun, but this coming catastrophe reminds of it. There was an extremely upsetting scene, absurd of course, but at 8 I did not know it, of melting typewriters as the last newspaper on earth finally closed its doors. This is the end we will be seeing, and I fear it will be sooner rather than later, if we don't do something extremely drastic, which we won't, because people like me are considered delusional rather than bell wethers. Because not enough responsible people are speaking up and out and being heard and listened to by the masses of people who could MAKE the congress make the president do something! Will you? Write to your congresspeople today and quote this article, lift some of the phrases! Or if you want to know more, google global warming and permafrost and you'll get a number of articles. But DO SOMETHING or your children and your children's children will not have a world to grow up in!
ADDENDUM: By the way, here are some ideas for solutions: carpet the ocean in floating white slowly disolving organic pellets, preferably something that would feed fish or become part of the ocean floor, not interrupt the natural cycle. But it must stay on top of the water for a long enough time to reflect the sunlight and not allow the dark water to absorb any more sunlight/heat. Best if this is done in the arctic where the need is greatest, but it needs to be done in huge areas all over the ocean. Ditto with some degradable material on barren glacial land, land where the glaciers used to be, to help reflect the additional sunlight and keep the land from heating up more. This perhaps should not degrade for a long time, but be removable eventually, as it will be needed until snow returns when the climate recovers.
STOP burning so much oil and gas in the U.S. RATION it equally and allow the trading of ration cards. That way, the poor, who don't need to drive as far to work, or who may not have jobs, can gain an income from selling their gas rations, while the rich have to purchse their extra miles from others, rather than getting them freely.
Strictly regulate and LIMIT CO2 emissions to a very low level, and do the same in terms of trading carbon dioxide credits. But allow no factory or power plant to be grossly polluting just because it has the "credits" to allow it to do so. Give large tax incentives to bicycles and mass transit takers; penalize non car-poolers.
TURN OFF UNECESSARY OUTDOOR NIGHTTIME LIGHTING! I dunno what else we can do, beyond encouraging all sorts of alternative energy use, like building houses into the ground for natural cooling and heating and wind and improved solar power, and using the natural power of sea swells to generate power...and creative use of all sorts of natural rhythms to generate electricity, ANYTHING but coal-fired plants, which will only add to the problem, and it is obvious that we can no longer rely on burying carbon dioxide any longer. The earth is already giving it all back! But even if we can bury the new CO2 we make, we MUST generate electricity without using coal as often as we can, and put an enormous amount of effort into finding those renewable sources of energy. Non polluting ones that do not add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
We need to find a way to prevent huge wildfires out west, which add tons of carbon into the atmosphere each summer they burn out of control...Dunno how to do that, but maybe someone has an idea, or would if enough manpower were put to the task of thinking about it.
Posted by pamwagg at January 9, 2007 09:45 PM
Help. Any of you have some crazy cockeyed ideas of how we can save the world from the Armageddon that will and is befalling it, before it reaches a point of no return, if indeed that is not already in progress?