Monday, September 20, 2010

Death Spiral

Common Dreams has posted an article today, "Arctic Ice in Death Spiral."  The article quotes the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center as saying, "... the Arctic summer sea ice cover is in a death spiral. It's not going to recover.  I hate to say it but I think we are committed to a four- to six-degree warmer Arctic."

The article continues:  If the Arctic becomes six degrees warmer, then half of the world's permafrost will likely thaw, probably to a depth of a few metres, releasing most of the carbon and methane accumulated there over thousands of years, said Vladimir Romanovsky of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and a world expert on permafrost.

That would be catastrophic for human civilisation, experts agree. The permafrost region spans 13 million square kilometres of the land in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe and contains at least twice as much carbon as is currently present in the atmosphere - 1,672 gigatonnes of carbon, according a paper published in Nature in 2009. That's three times more carbon than all of the worlds' forests contain.

Abrupt releases of large amounts of CO2 and methane are certainly possible on a scale of decades, he said. The present relatively slow thaw of the permafrost could rapidly accelerate in a few decades, releasing huge amounts of global warming gases.

Another permafrost expert, Ted Schuur of the University of Florida, has come to the same conclusion. "In a matter of decades we could lose much of the permafrost," Shuur told IPS.

Those losses are more likely to come rapidly and upfront, he says. In other words, much of the permafrost thaw would happen at the beginning of a massive 50-year meltdown because of rapid feedbacks.

Emissions of CO2 and methane from thawing permafrost are not yet factored into the global climate models and it will be several years before this can be done reasonably well, Shuur said.

"Current mitigation targets are only based on anthropogenic (human) emissions," he explained.

"Emissions of CO2 and methane from thawing permafrost are not yet factored in."  I've been saying this for several years now, and have been waiting for the scientists to collect enough data to allow them to make this obvious statement.  Well, they're busily accumulating the data, they're already making the obvious statement, and within a couple of years we'll start seeing estimates of just how bad the runaway greenhouse effect is going to be.

Can there be any doubt what the "New Earth" of "New Earth Times" refers to?  I didn't know myself when I started this blog in 2004 (and had the idea for a magazine with that name several years before that).  I just thought it was a cool name.  But it sure looks like our "New Earth" won't include polar caps or rainforests or coral reefs or living oceans or... the list seems endless.

And now we're poised for a takeover by the denialists after the November elections.  The pressure is unrelenting.  Here's a rule of thumb:  the worse the objective situation, the worse the denial, and we ain't seen nothing yet.  I think it will be time for an updated edition of my "Brave New World" post after the elections.     


Anonymous jacques conejo said...

Well yeah... and you've been pointing to the lost permafrost = methane issue for years...

Feedback loops are still not fully acknowledged in most analysis...

All the indicators, in climate change, in politics, in global finance, food and water security, in the headlong increase of militarization as the cure for our ills.... It all points to the New World Disorder...

It hurts. It hurts me.

Oh well... we had some good decades didn't we?


6:58 AM  

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