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Melting Arctic And Released Methane Has Scientists Worried

 

By James Donahue

 

Some writers have dubbed the tons of ancient methane gas bubbling to the surface in the Siberian Tundra and Arctic Ocean a time bomb. Not only is this gas explosive, but it is about 25 times as potent at trapping heat as the carbon dioxide already blamed for global warming.

 

Is the heating of our planet about to intensify at an even more alarming rate? Have we reached the point of runaway global warming that Stephen Hawking once warned us about?

 

A survey by a team of 41 international experts led by the University of Florida, recently published in the journal Nature, states that earlier models of estimated carbon dioxide’s effects on climate temperatures “may have underestimated the magnitude of carbon emissions from permafrost over the next century. Its effect on climate change is projected to be 2.5 times greater than the models predicted.”

 

For those of us already alarmed by the radical weather shifts occurring . . . the extreme heat of summer and cold of winter . . . the severity of the storms . . . the excess rains in places where it never used to rain and the lack of rain in other areas . . . this report appears to be very bad news.

 

Scientists flocking to the north Siberian Tundra are finding that the melting ice is exposing not only ancient bones of prehistoric animals and plants long frozen in the arctic ice, but are observing plumes of methane gas bubbling up from the exposed open sea. A match held over a hole punched in the mud produces unexpected explosions of flame from the gas seeping from the ground.

 

Ecologist Edward Schuur, who participated in the Nature report, explained that the permafrost has acted like a meat locker, halting the activity of bacteria in the soil. As the permafrost thaws, however, anaerobic digestion occurs among all of the frozen plants and animals left in the muck. And this creates methane. There is so much material left stored in the ice and frozen ground, and the thawing is occurring so fast, that the production of methane is alarming.

 

Because methane is among the most powerful of the greenhouse gases not spewing into our atmosphere the worry is that climate change is speeding up.

 

While the final picture of just how serious this new development is going to be, Schuur notes that the permafrost zone over northern Siberia, Canada  and Alaska covers 11.7 million square miles of land. And there is evidence that the carbon is stored much deeper in the soil than had been previously thought. Thus no one knows as yet how much methane is being produced by the arctic melt.

 

“We know the models are not yet giving us the right answer – it’s going to take time and development to make those better, and that process is not finished yet,” Schuur said.

 

Since the report was published numerous other voices from the scientific community have emerged, many of them assuring the world that the story of the arctic methane has been blown out of proportion and that we have nothing to really worry about.

 

A paper by a team led by Igor Dmitrenko of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Science, Kiel, Germany, notes that the thawing process has been going in in the arctic for 8,000 years, although the sharp warming in the region since 1985 has had an influence.

 

A summary of the paper from the American Geophysical Union said the authors found that about one meter of the subsurface permafrost thawed in the past 25 years. “Forecasting the expected future permafrost thaw, the authors found that even under the most extreme climatic scenario tested this thawed soil growth will not exceed 10 meters by 2100 or 50 meters by the turn of the next millennium. The authors note that the bulk of the methane stores in the east Siberian shelf are trapped roughly 200 meters below the seafloor.”

 

It sounds like the old “Nothing to see here folks, move along.”

 

Schuur wrote: “It’s an interesting exercise in watching how scientists, who are very cautious in their training, make hypotheses about what our future will look like. The numbers are significant, and they appear like they are plausible and they are large enough for significant concern.”