News item I spied earlier today, another one of those unpredictable side-effects of a warming planet — the Arctic’s permafrost melt — and another warning on methane release.
Although not a ‘new‘ environmental news subject, carbon release from under the ice could have a heinous consequence on overall global warming.
(Illustration found here).
Methane can be a bad bitch: ‘The gas, if it reaches the atmosphere, is far more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapper.’
And latest in the ‘permafrost methane seeps’ genre comes via Inside Climate News this morning — a couple of key points:
As the Arctic heats up at a rate twice that of the rest of the globe and as sea ice and glaciers turn to water, the permafrost is also thawing.
A recent review article in the journal Nature found that as the unfrozen organic matter decays, vast stores of carbon in the permafrost could be released into the atmosphere.
This will trigger an irreversible feedback system and nullify existing calculations of just how much carbon humans can burn and keep the globe within a relatively safe degree of warming.
Kevin Schaefer, a permafrost scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder and an author of the article, calls the thawing of the permafrost a “true climatic tipping point.”
Scientists are still trying to pinpoint when it will happen, but Schaefer said that a likely point is around the middle of this century, when the Arctic changes from a carbon sink to a carbon source.
When that happens, it will trigger a centuries-long, unstoppable feedback system, in which warming will release carbon, which will trigger more warming, which will release more carbon.
The scientific understanding of the permafrost is new—so new, in fact, that it wasn’t ready in time for the latest round of climate assessment reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s largest scientific body on global warming.
The 2014 IPCC report estimated that to hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, worldwide carbon dioxide emissions would have to be cut by 40 percent to 70 percent by 2050, and then drop to nearly zero by the end of the century.
This is a tall order on its own, and it does not take into account additional emissions from permafrost thawing.
“This is not a minor feedback,” Schaefer said.
“It’s still small compared to fossil fuels, but it is not negligible either.
“If you don’t account for it, you’ll overshoot this 2 degree target.”
There’s a lot of shit humanity ‘don’t account‘ for when thinking-up and putting-together shit — nuclear waste at power plants, just for one off the top of my nimble brain. And all stirred into the warming-up pot.
The focal point maybe is the question of when and how this extra greenhouse gas would hammer us humans. In a sideways-looking good side — supposedly the methane won’t just immediately detonate, but instead, just slowly explode — in another research paper on the matter earlier this month.
Via Climate Central:
And now, a new report in Nature — the most comprehensive study ever done on the permafrost feedback loop, has come down firmly in the “significant” camp.
“The permafrost carbon is not going to explode into the atmosphere catastrophically within just a few years,” Ted Schuur, a permafrost expert at Northern Arizona University, said.
“It’s more like it will seep out slowly in small amounts in a very large number of places.”
Those small emissions, however, will add up.
By the end of the century, they would add up to between 60 and 80 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in methane, a more powerful, albeit more short-lived greenhouse gas.
That would add nearly 10 percent to the 800 ppm of CO2 that could be in the atmosphere by the end of this century.
The 800 ppm alone could warm the planet by as much as 8.6°F above global temperatures during 1986-2005, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The extra CO2 released by thawing permafrost would just make things worse.
Because thawing permafrost is likely to happen in small amounts across many hundreds of thousands of square miles of Arctic terrain, amounting to 24 percent of the land in the Northern Hemisphere, nobody is suggesting that there’s any way to limit these emissions directly.
“Non-point-source pollution of this kind is a very tough challenge,” said Schuur, “and that’s exactly what this is.”
But since these natural emissions are triggered by the warming from human emissions in the first place, Schuur said, “refocusing on human emissions, which we do have some control over, is the best place to start.”
Well, thank-you much, that was a bit of funny.
And in that slapstick mode, but in warmer climes, this story from a couple of weeks ago (via the Weather Channel):
Scientists are working to reveal the source of a methane mass half the size of Connecticut currently hovering over the Four Corners region of the American Southwest.
Researchers with the University of Colorado, the University of Michigan, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are teaming up to conduct a month-long study, the Associated Press reports.
Last year, researchers with NASA and the University of Michigan released a study that showed the methane mass was the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas in the U.S.
Now, these scientists are coming together to piece together how the “hot spot” formed.
When NASA discovered the methane mass last year, they were basing their observations on satellite imagery taken from the European Space Agency.
That imagery, however, didn’t carry enough detail to point to the source of the methane.
According to NASA, the likely sources of the hot spot include the region’s many coal mines and the oil and gas activities in the area.
Methane, which is the main component of natural gas, is extracted from coalbeds regularly, and accidental releases into the atmosphere aren’t uncommon.
Lots of shit uncommon, accompanied by some nasty gas…