Thursday, August 11, 2005

Would you like fries with that?

Via Past Peak, bad news about the permafrost, reprinted in full below.

It is hard for me to add anything, but wouldn't it be silly if nature had gifted us with just enough stored oil, methane and coal to kill the world? Just by a squidge, of course.

Idle speculation; we who plan on living at least 50 more years have our work cut out for us.

Put the gun down, chimp, the time for playing Russian Roullette has passed.

This is truly ominous news. 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.

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 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." [...]

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 70 billion 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 700 million 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. [...]

"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." [...] [My emphasis]

It's all happening very quickly, much more quickly than anyone had supposed. As these feedback loops kick in (warming leading to feedback effects that increase warming that increases the feedback effects) the process may continue to accelerate rapidly, producing truly drastic changes on the scale of years rather than decades or centuries. The human consequences would be staggering.

Meanwhile, aboard the Titanic (which, as everyone knows, is completely unsinkable), the band plays on with mad abandon, and it's all engines ahead full.


7 Comments:

At 7:34 AM, August 11, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

I saw (and blogged) the same thing - frightening.

Oh well - the Titanic is well out of control now - shame that lifeboats metaphor doesn't actually translate all that well into the real world...

 
At 9:13 AM, August 11, 2005, Anonymous brix said...

Well, if all the fossil fuels we're releasing are the remnants of the Carboniferous period's CO2 rich atmosphere, then aren't we just completing a really really long carbon cycle of sorts?

Not that it's in our best interests to do so, but it may not be up to us anymore. Batten down the hatches!

 
At 9:30 AM, August 11, 2005, Blogger WattHead said...

Wow, that is scary. This kinda of news impresses upon me the urgency of solving the global warming problem. Its too bad that the general public have the view (fostered largely by our world leaders) that this is an issue 20-50-100 years off. ITS NOT! This is urgent and it may already be too late! Thanks for helping to spread this kinda news around.

 
At 9:34 AM, August 11, 2005, Blogger Chris said...

Yet another mega-variable joining the barrage already rumbling at us.

Lifeboats -- yes, I don't buy it either. "Brazil's" Plumber had it right. He knew what a methane pile civilization s(h)at on.

What is this peculiar feeling?
Dynamic paralysis?
Sitting-Duck-Stasis?
The Tao of Duality?

...Or just the Tao of facing the oncoming Train and waving slowly back.

 
At 9:53 PM, August 13, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Freaky things that have happened since I started blogging:

Confirmed: Glaciers Melting
Confirmed: Puddles where there should be permafrost.
Confirmed: No oceanic upwelling this summer
Confirmed: Flowers in Death Valley

It is scary. It feels like we have crossed a threshold.

Fear can be misused - as by Bushco, to herd people, or it can be a survival motivator, as evolution intended.

we'd better fucking evolve real fast.

 
At 8:10 PM, August 19, 2005, Blogger patrick said...

"It is hard for me to add anything, but wouldn't it be silly if nature had gifted us with just enough stored oil, methane and coal to kill the world?"

Uh, the earth is 4 billion years old, and it's not going anywhere. The biosphere loves more CO2. The human population is 7 billion and growing.

So nobody's going anywhere.

"Well, if all the fossil fuels we're releasing are the remnants of the Carboniferous period's CO2 rich atmosphere, then aren't we just completing a really really long carbon cycle of sorts?"

That is the most brilliant comment on fossil fuel use that I've heard in a long time.

"This is urgent and it may already be too late!"

Too late for what? Investing in real estate in sunny, warm Alaska? :-)

"Confirmed: Flowers in Death Valley"

Oh, the horror ... And hurricanes have brought more moisture to our plot of land this summer. good.

"Fear can be misused - as by Bushco, to herd people, or it can be a survival motivator, as evolution intended."

Evolution doesnt 'intend' anything. And you are herding yourself with your own self-induced fear.

Reality: Sun will rise tomorrow. And every day.
And humans will be around to watch it for eons to come.

 
At 11:19 PM, August 19, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Thanks for stopping by, Patrick. It has been a while since someone corrected me on this blog and were themselves flatly wrong.

"Uh, the earth is 4 billion years old, and it's not going anywhere. The biosphere loves more CO2. The human population is 7 billion and growing.
So nobody's going anywhere."

Everyone alive today is gonna be dead in 120 years. Population of 7 billion means nothing without food for the children. As for "The biosphere loves more CO2", the Biosphere doesn't "love" anything, but the wee critters in the ocean are probably getting pissed about the increased acidity in their habitat. Also, update your bullet points from the 1990's -- there are limits to how much CO2 forest and tundra can soak.

"Too late for what? Investing in real estate in sunny, warm Alaska? :-)"

:) take a drive up to your new cabin in Alaska - but watch out for sinkholes, voracious clouds of insects, and buckled roads. :)

"Evolution doesnt 'intend' anything. And you are herding yourself with your own self-induced fear.
Reality: Sun will rise tomorrow. And every day.
And humans will be around to watch it for eons to come."

You are right, I was sloppy with my language, kind of like you were above ("the biosphere loves...").

But you know what I meant, so don't try and get cute. You don't have the chops. I'm writing this response sauced on wine with one hand playing minesweeper.

I think it is likely that you are right about the sun rising, and people being around, for eons to come. That doesn't speak to our present civilization; for all I know in the next century grubs and shrooms will be delicacies.

In fact, I previously related the rising of the sun to peak oil:

http://peake.blogspot.com/2005/04/pique-oil-prognostication-whimsy.html
A clear eyed look at what is going on now is all that is required, just as it was is for M. King Hubbert in the 1950’s. We don’t need to predict the future; we are what the future is made of. Hubbert “predicting” peak oil is a similar feat to me “predicting” the sun will rise in the morning. Individual oil fields deplete every day, so why should it be different for all oil fields?

 

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