Monday, May 08, 2017

The Warming Arctic Adding More CO2 And Methane

Think of it this way - permafrost, methane emissions; tundra, CO2 emissions. We've known for some time that melting permafrost in the Arctic is leading to the release of troubling volumes of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane. Now the focus is on the tundra and the release of the less-powerful but more persistent greenhouse gas, CO2, carbon dioxide.

A new study of Alaskan tundra reveals how CO2 release is accelerating due to the warmer Arctic climate. The tundra is now freezing later and thawing earlier.

Measurements of carbon dioxide levels taken from aircraft, satellites and on the ground show that the amount of CO2 emitted from Alaska’s frigid northern tundra increased by 70% between 1975 and 2015, in the period between October and December each year.

Researchers said warming temperatures and thawing soils were the likely cause of the increase in CO2 at a time of year when the upper layers of soil usually start freezing over as winter sets in.

In the Arctic summer, the upper level of soil, which sits above a vast sheet of permafrost that covers much of Alaska, thaws out and decomposing organic matter starts to produce CO2. From October, colder temperatures help freeze the soil again, locking up the CO2.

Alaska’s warming autumns and winters are altering this process. Whereas soils 40 years ago took about a month to completely freeze over, the process can now take three months or longer. In some places in the state, the soil is not freezing until January, particularly if there is a layer of insulating snow.


Toby said...

That stuff is really scary. One wonders what sort of plan the rich and powerful have to deal with it. I suspect they think in terms of cities in bubbles with climate controlled atmosphere or massive underground silos, even a base or two on the moon. One thing I'm sure of is that you and I are not included in their future.

The Mound of Sound said...

Some time ago I suggested their approach is one of "just not yet." They tend to be reasonably well educated. They know what's happening even if only vaguely. I even expect they know that action will have to be taken at some point, only "just not quite yet." They're playing this to the margins although they're not being too scrupulous about where those margins are. What they're doing is ordained by the "because we can" mentality that, more than anything else, was responsible for bringing us to the existential edge in so many ways from greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of contamination, to resource exhaustion and depletion, to our disastrous levels of overpopulation.

You're about my age, Toby. When I was born the world stood at an all-time record population of about 2.5-billion humans. It took around 11,000+ years of civilization to first pass the 1 billion mark around 1814. A century and a bit later that had swelled by 2.5-fold. Since my birth we've swelled our numbers a further 3-fold to 7.5 billion. In other words, in the span of just two centuries in the now 12,000 years of human civilization we have increased our population by a factor of 7.5. And, especially during the post-war era we have compounded that 3-fold increase in raw numbers by a significant increase in our per-capita consumption. Integral to this was the planning assumption that growth would solve all our problems, something we've not been able to shake no matter how clear the evidence this is backfiring.

Cheap (but dirty) fossil fuel energy and raw sleight of hand (the Green Revolution for example) has allowed man to grow the economy far beyond the limits of the environment. That now stands at 1.7 and it's growing every year.

Let's value our natural reserves (freshwater, biomass, etc.) at $10,000. That's what we have in the bank. Now let's value the Earth's replenishment rate, its carrying capacity, at $1,000 and call that our monthly take home pay. Then we'll peg our consumption of resources at $1,700 and call that our monthly expenses. In other words you've got 10-grand in the bank, $1,000 a month in take home pay, and you're covering expenses of $1,700 a month. Your bank balance is being drained at $700 per month. That's the ecological catastrophe that's building now.

This isn't hypothetical. It's tangible, demonstrable, measurable. It's visible to the naked eye from the International Space Station. It takes many forms from dry lake beds and rivers that no longer run to the sea. It's evident in spreading deforestation and desertification, in dust clouds that rise over China and cross the Pacific to North America. It's visible in algae blooms in our rivers and lakes. NASA's Grace satellites measure the subsidence of drained aquifers to within a fraction of an inch.

Here on Earth we see the evidence in fish species over-fished to extinction as our commercial fleet fishes down the food chain. We see it in oceanic dead zones and in ocean acidification. We see it in species extinctions and in migrations. The evidence of our profligacy and indifference is everywhere and it's undeniable. And yet still we carry on with our bag of conjuring tricks looking for ever more next year. Think we're not a species gone mad?

Toby said...

Back about 1972 I attended a lecture on global warming at the Vancouver Planetarium. What has been happening since is pretty much as predicted. Solutions to the problems are much more difficult than changing our light bulbs or driving electric cars.

John's Aghast said...

Toby, back about the same time a fellow by the name of EF Schumacher wrote "Small is Beautiful" which addressed the same problems we're encountering now, some 45 years later. We have not learned a thing in 45 years! I worry that another 45 years will be too late.