The permafrost methane problem.
In 2008 when I wrote ZERO Greenhouse Emissions, I included a chapter ‘Mother Natures Super Salesman’ to attempt to get the point across that unless we decarbonise our activities in the short term Mother Nature would kick in some of her stores of carbon and methane. Many other facts were revealed and I would encourage you to find out what else we need to do! All proceeds from the book go to help the Foundations voice for change remain active. Here is an excerpt on the permafrost problem from Mother Natures Super Salesman.
“Next in the sales brochure, we are off back to the Northern Hemisphere to a balmy climate that until now has been largely overlooked by holiday makers, Siberia.”
“On offer here we have one or two new tourist attractions—thawing peat bogs!! This could be symbolized by thinking of the Olympic rings linking up and ever increasing in diameter. As the permafrost starts to melt the outside of the circles fall inward in an ever widening pool of melting peat. As the sides collapse in a positive feedback, puddles become ponds, which become lakes. A real sight, but not for any freestyle Olympic swimmer to tackle—better leave this for the extreme sports crowd. Covering an area of a million square miles and frozen for eleven thousand years, Siberia has, as is the situation with the Arctic, been storing carbon since the last ice age. The simple botanical lesson works like this. The moss and lichen surviving on the frozen permafrost over thousands of years have been slowly absorbing massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Until now it’s been a little too chilly for the seasonal growth to fully decompose, so for the last eleven thousand years the ever thickening, year after year layers, are now around 25 meters thick. We have on offer again, assisted by the standard no-option heater, up to a quarter of all the carbon that has been taken up in the world vegetation and soils since the last ice age. Now as average temperatures rise at three times the global average these frozen Siberian peat bogs are melting into putrid puddles, then swamps, then lakes. Lacking in oxygen, they release methane. More than twenty times more powerful and faster acting as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the critical level of atmospheric concentrations could be reached, exceeded, and on a run to massive climatic destabilization in a heartbeat.”
“From 2002 to 2005 reports stated, that while the West Siberian peat lands had remained stable, the big thaw was now on, warming faster than anywhere on the planet. With every year the spring melt has been starting earlier and earlier adding to the positive feedback. Increasing levels of rainfall are making the area far wetter and with spring coming sooner and the winter freeze coming later, many areas of Siberia and Alaska are retaining their warmth longer. As the peat on the bottom of the lakes is converting its methane cocktail, the gases bubble to the surface. Some of the southernmost lakes are remaining unfrozen during winter, lakes that had frozen each year for thousands of years. Where the winter snow does fall, it acts as a blanket to keep the lower levels warm, where the spring melt can add even more moisture. Add to that the fact that the dark lakes, as with the expanses of open ocean in the Arctic free of sea ice, absorb more warmth the cumulative effects of warming are amplified. These areas were now being referred to as an ‘ecological landslide that is probably irreversible.’”
“Where the pebble had fallen previously on hard ground, it now falls into a quicksand of fetid swamp. Lakes of melting permafrost can be seen to stretch for hundreds of kilometers with the clear and present danger that methane release is happening at an alarming rate already.” “As the zero-degree isotherm line moves ever further north (the point at which the land reached the melting point of ice, 0 degrees centigrade) year after year it is not a case of if, but one of inevitability. Not a case of, will the methane contribute to further planetary warming, but how much and when will the critical level be reached?”
“In northern Siberia lakes are releasing methane at a rate five times higher than previously estimated. Studies by Katey Walter, an International Polar Year postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska–Fairbanks, reported in Nature in 2006 that her team’s calculations increase the present estimates of methane emissions from northern wetlands by between 10 and 63 percent. She explains: ‘This newly recognized source of methane is so far not included in climate models.’ Estimates suggest the area has 500 gigatons (1,100 trillion pounds) of carbon, largely in the form of ancient dead plant material. Walter suggests: ‘Permafrost models predict significant thaw of permafrost during this century, which means that yedoma permafrost is like a time bomb waiting to go off—as it continues to thaw, tens of thousands of teragrams of methane can be released to the atmosphere enhancing climate change.’”
“Monitoring of methane releases is becoming an advanced area of research. London’s Royal Holloway College oversees a large international program led by Euan Nisbet to monitor emissions. Their studies suggest that releases from the West Siberian region are up to 100,000 tonnes per day, with a representative warming effect on the planet as a whole of greater than all of the emissions from the United States manmade attributable emissions. Nisbet suggests that ‘If the peat lands become wetter with warming and permafrost degradation, methane releases to the atmosphere will dramatically increase. Methane storage once released is estimated to be equivalent to all manmade emissions for the last 200 years.’
“It has already started,” said the super salesman.
Posted: July 14th, 2010 under Climate Change, Foundation News, General, Nature, Tipping Points.
Tags: arctic, catastrophic climate change, Climate Change, CO2 Emissions, CO2 levels, global warming, Ice free Arctic, natural systems, Tipping Points
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