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Undersea gas could speed global warming – study

Timothy Gardner, Reuters
If the world continues to get warmer, vast amounts of methane gas trapped in ice under the sea could belch up and worsen climate change, according to a study.

“We may have less time than we think to do something (about the prospect of global warming),” Dr. Ira Leifer, a marine scientist at University of California Santa Barbara, said in an interview.

Leifer is the main author of a study that looks at how “peak blowouts” of melting undersea formations called methane hydrates could release the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. The study was published on Thursday in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a climate science publication.

The distribution of methane hydrates throughout the world is so vast that energy companies hope one day to tap the resource. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that such formations could harbor as much as 200,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Hydrate formations exist under hundreds of meters of water in places like the Gulf of Mexico and closer to the surface in permafrost areas of the Arctic.

Methane, the main component of the fossil fuel natural gas, has two faces. When burned it releases less carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that scientists believe are warming the earth, than any other fossil fuel.

But if it escapes to the atmosphere without being burned, it can trap heat rapidly because it is a greenhouse gas at least 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
(20 July 2006)

NASA’s Goals Delete Mention of Home Planet

Andrew C. Revkin, NY Times
From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.”

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. In this year’s budget and planning documents, the agency’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”

David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

But the change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the “understand and protect” phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
(22 July 2006)
Also posted at Common Dreams.

Researchers Link Wildfires, Climate Change

Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press via Common Dreams
Scientists worldwide are watching temperatures rise, the land turn dry and vast forests go up in flames. In the Siberian taiga and Canadian Rockies, in southern California and Australia, researchers find growing evidence tying an upsurge in wildfires to climate change, an impact long predicted by global-warming forecasters.

Forest and peat fires release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, adding to climate warming, which in turn will intensify forest fires, further worsening warming in a planetary feedback loop.

“This is a carbon bomb,” said Johann Goldammer, director of the Global Fire Monitoring Center at Germany’s Freiburg University. “It’s sitting there waiting to be ignited, and there is already ignition going on.”

A team at California’s Scripps Institution, in a headline-making report this month, found that warmer temperatures, causing earlier snow runoff and consequently drier summer conditions, were the key factor in an explosion of big wildfires in the U.S. West over three decades, including fires now rampaging east of Los Angeles.

Researchers previously reached similar conclusions in Canada, where fire is destroying an average 6.4 million acres a year, compared with 2.5 million in the early 1970s. And an upcoming U.S.-Russian-Canadian scientific paper points to links between warming and wildfires in Siberia, where 2006 already qualifies as an extreme fire season, sixth in the past eight years. Far to the south in drought-stricken Australia, meanwhile, 2005 was the hottest year on record, and the dangerous bushfire season is growing longer.

“Temperature increases are intimately linked with increases in area burned in Canada, and I would expect the same worldwide,” said Mike Flannigan, a veteran Canadian Forest Service researcher.
(22 July 2006)

Global Warming, Not Just Heat Wave

Julio Godoy, Inter Press Service via Common Dreams
PARIS – The heat wave sweeping Europe is a direct consequence of the warming of the earth’s atmosphere, experts say. “We are observing and suffering the first effects of global warming,” Hervé Le Treut, meteorologist at the French Centre for Scientific Research told IPS.

“The emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are leading to higher temperatures all over the world, but these are observed in an irregular manner across the continents,” he said. “The global weather is clearly disturbed.”

Record temperatures of well over 35 degrees Celsius were recorded all over Europe this week. On Jul. 20 Paris and Berlin registered 39 degrees. In Belgium, Jul. 19 was the hottest day ever in July, with 37 degrees.

The July maximum temperature record was also broken in Britain. The mercury reached 36.5 Celsius at the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Wisley in Surrey. The previous record for July, 36 degrees, was set in Epsom in 1911.

“Europa achicharrada”, the weekly Spanish newspaper El Semanal declared, meaning “Europe burned to a crisp”.

The heat wave has led to several deaths across Europe.
(21 July 2006)