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Nature Bombshell: Climate Experts Warn Thawing Permafrost Could Cause 2.5 Times the Warming of Deforestation!

Joe Romm, ThinkProgress
Back in February, a major study found that thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100. That study, by NOAA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center, conservatively assumed all of the carbon would be released as CO2 and none as the far more potent greenhouse gas, methane (CH4).

But that is unlikely, as this video of University of Alaska, Fairbanks, assistant professor Katey Walter Anthony, suggests: …

A new article in Nature, “Climate change: High risk of permafrost thaw” (subs. req’d) concludes:

Arctic temperatures are rising fast, and permafrost is thawing…. Our collective estimate is that carbon will be released more quickly than models suggest, and at levels that are cause for serious concern.

We calculate that permafrost thaw will release the same order of magnitude of carbon as deforestation if current rates of deforestation continue. But because these emissions include significant quantities of methane, the overall effect on climate could be 2.5 times larger.

The permafrost permamelt contains a staggering amount of carbon, which is starting to escape:

Recent years have brought reports from the far north of tundra fires1, the release of ancient carbon2, CH4 bubbling out of lakes3 and gigantic stores of frozen soil carbon4. The latest estimate is that some 18.8 million square kilometres of northern soils hold about 1,700 billion tonnes of organic carbon4 — the remains of plants and animals that have been accumulating in the soil over thousands of years. That is about four times more than all the carbon emitted by human activity in modern times and twice as much as is present in the atmosphere now.

As the article explains (see below), much of that carbon would be released as methane.
(1 December 2011)

An Arctic Wildcard Could Make the Climate Go Bust

Bryan Walsh, TIME Magazine
Last week I wrote about a study that said something unusual—climate change may not turn out to be as serious as our worst fears. Well, there was a reason why that study was such an outlier—most of the science on climate change is dire and getting direr.

Case in point: a new article in this week’s Nature that explores what global warming might do to the methane gas buried beneath the permafrost. Methane has 23 times the global warming power of carbon dioxide, and there are billions of tons worth of it trapped in the Arctic. As the climate warms, some of that permafrost will become less permanent, melting and allowing the methane to escape and add to global warming—which will in turn speed climate change. That’s why Arctic methane has always been considered a climate “wildcard”—how fast it escapes from the tundra could have major impacts on the rate of warming.

Well, that wildcard is threatening to bust our hand, or some similar blackjack metaphor. According to the authors of the Nature article, Arctic warming of 7.5 C this century could allow the equivalent of 380 billion tons of carbon dioxide to escape as soils thaw. That would provide a major boost to warming.

As the authors write:

We calculate that permafrost thaw will release the same order of magnitude of carbon as deforestation if current rates of deforestation continue. Because these emissions include significant quantities of methane, the overall effect on climate could be 2.5 times larger.

(1 December 2011)

Changing climate of Republican opinion doesn’t agree with Tea Party

Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian
Nearly two-thirds of moderate or liberal Republicans believe there is solid evidence for global warming, Pew poll finds

This won’t make the Koch brothers happy: nearly two-thirds of moderate or liberal Republicans now believe there is solid evidence for global warming, according to a poll from the Pew research centre.

That’s 22 points higher since 2009, the year the billionaire oil brothers first began pouring money into Tea Party groups working to discredit Barack Obama’s green agenda.

The shift suggests that the Koch efforts to spread doubt about climate science may be backfiring.

Climate change doubt – seen by Tea Party activists as a litmus test of conservative credentials – is not, as it turns out, energising the Republican masses.

It’s dividing them, alienating from the Tea Party wing those more moderate Republicans who account for about a third of the party’s supporters.
(2 December 2011)

Climate change: 2011 temperatures the hottest ever during La Nina

Jon Herskovitz, Reuters via CSM
Climate change studies show rising global temperatures – the 10th highest ever – and shrinking ice caps. This year saw the lowest volume of Arctic sea ice ever recorded, due to global warming, say scientists.

The world is getting hotter, with 2011 one of the warmest years on record, and humans are to blame, a report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said on Tuesday.

t warned increasing global average temperatures were expected to amplify floods, droughts and other extreme weather patterns.

“Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities,” WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jerry Lengoasa told reporters in Durban, where almost 200 nations are gathered for U.N. climate talks.

The WMO report was released to coincide with U.N. climate talks which run until Dec. 9 in Durban aimed at trying to reach agreement on cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
(29 November 2011)