by Frank Thomas
In my February 2013 writing, “Arctic Methane Release is a Near Term Potential Global Environment Disaster in the Making,” I tried my amateur best to alert people to the breakneck pace at which we are altering the Arctic permafrost environment by anthropogenic global warming (heat from the Earth’s surface) and its feedbacks … including melting of the Arctic sea ice, thus enabling more Arctic Ocean seawater to absorb – rather than reflect – solar energy.
This in turn intensifies the ocean warming and melting of permafrost top soils under which a HUGE amount of carbon lurks.
The ticking time bomb from this process is the release of potential massive amounts of the ultra-toxic, heat-trapping methane gas (CH4) into the atmosphere. In fact, CH4 levels in the lower atmosphere over Arctic regions are already showing alarming new elevations.
In 2012, Dr. Semiletov reported plumes over the Siberian continental shelf up to 1 kilometer in diameter spewing CH4 into the atmosphere. Now that the Arctic permafrost is in a relatively rapid process of melting, the danger is that it will continue melting, resulting in an uncontrollable release of larger volumes of CH4 … and an irreversible tipping point. This would have a catastrophic global warming effect in combination with what fossil fuels are already contributing!
When calculating 100-year global warming potential (GWP) figures, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies reports that, when aerosol-cloud interactions are included, the GWP of CH4 is 30-40% greater than scientists had previously thought.
On a 100-year timescale, this means that 1 ton of CH4 has a 22 times more potent effect on the climate than 1 ton of C02 … and a 105 times more potent effect on the climate than C02 on a 22-year timescale.
Much to my surprise, a NASA science team has recently come to the same conclusions that other Arctic scientists have reached (and noted in my prior writing on this earth threat) concerning the huge amounts of carbon trapped in the Arctic permafrost. In NASA’s words,
“Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon – an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams (or 1,400 to 1,850 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams (or 350 billion metric tons) of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850….
As heat from the Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming….
“Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures – as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years. (Above are words from NASA’s report and Charles Miller representing NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory).
Here we are today with C02 concentrations near 400 ppm and hoping we can contain this level to no more than a stabilized 450 ppm or a 2 degree Celsius increase by 2050. A rise to 500 ppm or 600 ppm would be a warming up of at least 3.5 to 4.0 degrees Celsius. This may seem small, but it would create Earth conditions not witnessed in millions of years!
The UK Royal Society’s series on a 4 degree Celsius world concluded that a 3 degree Celsius warming entails a real risk of simply continuing on to a 4 degree Celsius warming if carbon-cycle feedbacks are strong (and the evidence suggests they are).
At a 4 degree Celsius warming, the Royal Society’s series concluded that “The ecosystem services upon which human livelihoods depend would not be preserved.”
What’s happening in the Arctic from the continuing rise in global C02 emissions and earth’s warming is downplayed by the media under pressure from their advertisers, lied about by the climate denial community and special interests and is purposely suppressed or not let on to the public by government agencies for fear it will create too much anxiety and strife.
Result? Tentativeness or outright inaction! No multi-faceted aggressive, fast-track actions to transform at least 80% to a green energy environment by 2050.
This is in sharp contrast to what California, Germany and Denmark are doing on schedule with federal-state-local energy programs that prioritize Conservation, Elimination of Coal, Phase Out of Nuclear Plants and Conversion to Alternate Energy Solar and Wind energy sources over the next 40 years – with a transition reliance on gas/oil as a bridge until 80% independence from fossils is achieved by 2050.
Conclusion? Unless we unite fast on this planetary environmental threat , fossil fuels will win the short-term battle and we humans will lose our stable and friendly climate.
by Frank Thomas, writing from The Netherlands