|The Golden Thread
|ARCTIC ICE IN DEATH SPIRAL
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|Author:||Sky [ Thu Sep 23, 2010 12:52 pm ]|
|Post subject:||ARCTIC ICE IN DEATH SPIRAL|
ARCTIC ICE IN DEATH SPIRAL
By Stephen Leahy
Inter Press Service
September 20, 2010
UXBRIDGE ¬ The carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have
melted the Arctic sea ice to its lowest volume since before the rise of
human civilisation, dangerously upsetting the energy balance of the entire
planet, climate scientists are reporting.
³The Arctic sea ice has reached its four lowest summer extents (area
covered) in the last four years,² said Mark Serreze, director of the
National Snow and Ice Data Center in the U.S. city of Boulder, Colorado.
The volume -- extent and thickness -- of ice left in the Arctic likely
reached the lowest ever level this month, Serreze told IPS.
³I stand by my previous statements that the Arctic summer sea ice cover is
in a death spiral. It¹s not going to recover,² he said.
There can be no recovery because tremendous amounts of extra heat are added
every summer to the region as more than 2.5 million square kilometres of the
Arctic Ocean have been opened up to the heat of the 24-hour summer sun. A
warmer Arctic Ocean not only takes much longer to re-freeze, it emits huge
volumes of additional heat energy into the atmosphere, disrupting the
weather patterns of the northern hemisphere, scientists have now confirmed.
³The exceptional cold and snowy winter of 2009-2010 in Europe, eastern Asia
and eastern North America is connected to unique physical processes in the
Arctic,² James Overland of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
in the United States told IPS in Oslo, Norway last June in an exclusive
interview. Paradoxically, a warmer Arctic means ³future cold and snowy
winters will be the rule rather than the exception² in these regions,
Overland told IPS.
There is growing evidence of widespread impacts from a warmer Arctic, agreed
Serreze. ³Trapping all that additional heat has to have impacts and those
will grow in the future,² he said.
One local impact underway is a rapid warming of the coastal regions of the
Arctic, where average temperatures are now three to five degrees C warmer
than they were 30 years ago. If the global average temperature increases
from the present 0.8 C to two degrees C, as seems likely, the entire Arctic
region will warm at least four to six degrees and possibly eight degrees due
to a series of processes and feedbacks called Arctic amplification.
A similar feverish rise in our body temperatures would put us in hospital if
it didn¹t kill us outright.
³I hate to say it but I think we are committed to a four- to six-degree
warmer Arctic,² Serreze said.
If the Arctic becomes six degrees warmer, then half of the world¹s
permafrost will likely thaw, probably to a depth of a few metres, releasing
most of the carbon and methane accumulated there over thousands of years,
said Vladimir Romanovsky of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and a
world expert on permafrost.
Methane is a global warming gas approximately 25 times more potent than
carbon dioxide (CO2).
That would be catastrophic for human civilisation, experts agree. The
permafrost region spans 13 million square kilometres of the land in Alaska,
Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe and contains at least twice as much
carbon as is currently present in the atmosphere -- 1,672 gigatonnes of
carbon, according a paper published in Nature in 2009. That¹s three times
more carbon than all of the worlds¹ forests contain.
³Permafrost thawing has been observed consistently across the entire region
since the 1980s,² Romanovsky said in an interview.
A Canadian study in 2009 documented that the southernmost permafrost limit
had retreated 130 kilometres over the past 50 years in Quebec¹s James Bay
region. At the northern edge, for the first time in a decade, the heat from
the Arctic Ocean pushed far inland this summer, Romanovsky said.
There are no good estimates of how much CO2 and methane is being released by
the thawing permafrost or by the undersea permafrost that acts as a cap over
unknown quantities of methane hydrates (a type of frozen methane) along the
Arctic Ocean shelf, he said.
³Methane is always there anywhere you drill through the permafrost,²
Last spring, Romanovsky¹s colleagues reported that an estimated eight
million tonnes of methane emissions are bubbling to the surface from the
shallow East Siberian Arctic shelf every year in what were the first-ever
measurements taken there. If just one percent of the Arctic undersea methane
reaches the atmosphere, it could quadruple the amount of methane currently
in the atmosphere.
Abrupt releases of large amounts of CO2 and methane are certainly possible
on a scale of decades, he said. The present relatively slow thaw of the
permafrost could rapidly accelerate in a few decades, releasing huge amounts
of global warming gases.
Another permafrost expert, Ted Schuur of the University of Florida, has come
to the same conclusion. ³In a matter of decades we could lose much of the
permafrost,² Shuur told IPS.
Those losses are more likely to come rapidly and upfront, he says. In other
words, much of the permafrost thaw would happen at the beginning of a
massive 50-year meltdown because of rapid feedbacks.
Emissions of CO2 and methane from thawing permafrost are not yet factored
into the global climate models and it will be several years before this can
be done reasonably well, Shuur said.
³Current mitigation targets are only based on anthropogenic (human)
emissions,² he explained.
Present pledges by governments to reduce emissions will still result in a
global average temperature increase of 3.5 to 3.9 C by 2100, according to
the latest analysis. That would result in an Arctic that¹s 10 to 16 degrees
C warmer, releasing most of the permafrost carbon and methane and unknown
quantities of methane hydrates.
This is why some climate scientists are calling for a rapid phaseout of
fossil fuels, recommending that fossil fuel emissions peak by 2015 and then
decline three per cent per year. But even then there¹s still a 50-percent
probability of exceeding two degrees C current studies show. If the
emissions peak is delayed until 2025, then global temperatures will rise
three degrees C, the Arctic will be eight to 10 degrees warmer and the world
will lose most its permafrost.
Meanwhile, a new generation of low-cost, thin-film solar roof and outside
wall coverings being made today has the potential to eliminate burning coal
and oil to generate electricity, energy experts believe -- if governments
have the political will to fully embrace green technologies.
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