January 10, 2007

Another article

I stole this one too, but will give you the URL so you can see it at the proper website.,12374,1546824,00.html


Siberia feels the heat It's a frozen peat bog the size of France and Germany combined, contains billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas and, for the first time since the ice age, it is melting

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Thursday August 11, 2005
The Guardian

A vast expanse of western Sibera is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today.

Researchers who have recently returned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres - the size of France and Germany combined - has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

Article continues
The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world's largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying "tipping points" - delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures.

The discovery was made by Sergei Kirpotin at Tomsk State University in western Siberia and Judith Marquand at Oxford University and is reported in New Scientist today.

The researchers found that what was until recently a barren expanse of frozen peat is turning into a broken landscape of mud and lakes, some more than a kilometre across.

Dr Kirpotin told the magazine the situation was an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming". He added that the thaw had probably begun in the past three or four years.

Climate scientists yesterday reacted with alarm to the finding, and warned that predictions of future global temperatures would have to be revised upwards.

"When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable. There are no brakes you can apply," said David Viner, a senior scientist at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

"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."

In its last major report in 2001, the intergovernmental panel on climate change predicted a rise in global temperatures of 1.4C-5.8C between 1990 and 2100, but the estimate only takes account of global warming driven by known greenhouse gas emissions.

"These positive feedbacks with landmasses weren't known about then. They had no idea how much they would add to global warming," said Dr Viner.

Western Siberia is heating up faster than anywhere else in the world, having experienced a rise of some 3C in the past 40 years. Scientists are particularly concerned about the permafrost, because as it thaws, it reveals bare ground which warms up more quickly than ice and snow, and so accelerates the rate at which the permafrost thaws.

Siberia's peat bogs have been producing methane since they formed at the end of the last ice age, but most of the gas had been trapped in the permafrost. According to Larry Smith, a hydrologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, the west Siberian peat bog could hold some 70bn tonnes of methane, a quarter of all of the methane stored in the ground around the world.

The permafrost is likely to take many decades at least to thaw, so the methane locked within it will not be released into the atmosphere in one burst, said Stephen Sitch, a climate scientist at the Met Office's Hadley Centre in Exeter.

But calculations by Dr Sitch and his colleagues show that even if methane seeped from the permafrost over the next 100 years, it would add around 700m tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year, roughly the same amount that is released annually from the world's wetlands and agriculture.

It would effectively double atmospheric levels of the gas, leading to a 10% to 25% increase in global warming, he said.

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said the finding was a stark message to politicians to take concerted action on climate change. "We knew at some point we'd get these feedbacks happening that exacerbate global warming, but this could lead to a massive injection of greenhouse gases.

"If we don't take action very soon, we could unleash runaway global warming that will be beyond our control and it will lead to social, economic and environmental devastation worldwide," he said. "There's still time to take action, but not much.

"The assumption has been that we wouldn't see these kinds of changes until the world is a little warmer, but this suggests we're running out of time."

In May this year, another group of researchers reported signs that global warming was damaging the permafrost. Katey Walter of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told a meeting of the Arctic Research Consortium of the US that her team had found methane hotspots in eastern Siberia. At the hotspots, methane was bubbling to the surface of the permafrost so quickly that it was preventing the surface from freezing over.

Last month, some of the world's worst air polluters, including the US and Australia, announced a partnership to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the use of new technologies.

The deal came after Tony Blair struggled at the G8 summit to get the US president, George Bush, to commit to any concerted action on climate change and has been heavily criticised for setting no targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.


As you can tell, this article is a year older than the one yesterday, but it reiterates, with even more urgency, what the USA Today article suggests. Neither one, however, goes the whole way, extrapolating from the 1000 gigatons of methane released into the atmosphere and the catastrophic warming, to the obvious consequences...The End of Life as We Know It...

I hate to say it, but with the ocean warming, methane hydrates, not far below the surface, could also be released into the air, adding their gigatons to the greenhouse effect. I'm afraid, friends, that despite all my hopes for the future, we have none, none as a species, even if we, as a group, may live out our lives in relative discomfort. I must say, though, that I doubt we will do even that. I'm hoping that whatever they found in my liver (most likely more or less benign fat) will instead kill me before the End comes, because I do not want to be around for the mass panic and the riots and the nuclear wars and the screaming and wailing and despair and hopelessness and extreme hedonism and uselessness of everything...

I do not want to be around for it. Once social chaos breaks out when the End is recognized for what it is, I'm checking out. I told Dr O that before I do, I'll call Lynnie or Dr O or a visiting nurse, someone, just to run it by them, to say good-bye, something, just in case my perceptions are off and the chaos is only in my head, not in reality. I agreed to that readily. I do not want to die until I have to and I'll want to say good-bye in any event.

Ah, this is so terrible, so horrifying, so devastating to know. I wish I didn't, I should not have told you. It would have been kinder not to have. Sometimes ignorance is easier to take than a knowledge that is useless and leads only to despair. Forgive me if I have opened your eyes, only to leave you in unspeakable bleakness. Try to think of solutions; there may be some. However outlandish, if they are possible, the world could use them were we to develop enough discipline and political will and unity in attacking this problem.

Thinking of solutions also fights the despair; Kate is right. There are things each of us can do. They may seem small, but if EVERYONE did them, they would be enormous in their impact. In fact, tonight I am switching my last 2 incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent ones, just to set an example. Then my entire apartment will be lit only by fluorescents. I already do not use the heat, but the building is heated by a boiler that probably burns a set amount of oil no matter who uses the heat. I dunno how that works, actually. All I know is that on the 12th floor, all the heat used on the lower floors rises and heats me fine without my using any additional. BUT of course, the winter has been springlike, the crocuses are coming up in January in New England, so what cold weather are we even talking about? There has been no need, until today, for any heat at all! (Today we were still well above normal, but at least we were in the 30s in the morning; I think it got into the 40s by the afternoon.)

Enough for now. I have been given permission, by someone in the know about reading my blog and getting backlogged in doing so, not to write every day, though I did make a New Year's resolution to do so the month of January. In fact, I wasn't going to write tonight, but I had the energy and so decided to after all. I will write if and when I feel like it, but won't pressure myself to write 7 days a week, as I had been doing. Hope that's okay with everyone! BD

Posted by pamwagg at January 10, 2007 11:32 PM


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