Climate peril stirring in permafrost, experts tell UN

June 9, 2015
Scientists issued a dire warning Tuesday to UN climate negotiators in Bonn of a vicious global warming cycle that will be unlock
Scientists issued a dire warning Tuesday to UN climate negotiators in Bonn of a vicious global warming cycle that will be unlocked with the thawing of carbon-bearing permafrost

Scientists on Tuesday called for action to defuse a time bomb of Arctic greenhouse gas as negotiators at UN talks grappled over a climate rescue pact.

About 1,500 billion tonnes of heat-trapping carbon gas are estimated to be locked in permafrost, which is thawing as the climate warms, according to new research.

Releasing the carbon will create a vicious cycle in Earth's global-warming problem, said Susan Natali of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts.

The estimated amount of carbon in permafrost—perennially frozen ground covering about a quarter of exposed land in the northern hemisphere—represents about twice the volume currently in the atmosphere, she said.

"Emissions from permafrost could lead to out-of-control global warming", according to a presentation on the sidelines of 11-day climate talks in Bonn.

Country negotiators in the former West German capital are seeking to streamline a draft global climate pact for adoption at a UN conference in Paris in December.

But they disagree on how, and delegates say the meeting that opened last Monday has been taken up by technical squabbling.

There are just two days of talks left, and just over six months before the deadline for signing the final agreement which will seek to meet the UN goal of limiting overall global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

"We are advancing but not at the speed we would have liked," Gabriel Quijandria, the deputy environment minister of Peru, which hosted last year's UN climate conference, told AFP in Bonn.

French biologist and leading scientist at Takuvik Joint International Laboratory sets up equipment to detect temperature changes
French biologist and leading scientist at Takuvik Joint International Laboratory sets up equipment to detect temperature changes in the tundra near Kuujjuarapik, Quebec, Canada on December 5, 2014

Added Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute policy research body: "Everyone is concerned that it (the process) needs to be quicker."

Action needed now

The need for urgency was underlined by Natali, who pointed out that even in a 2 C scenario, the research pointed to a 30-percent loss of permafrost by 2100—up to 70 percent assuming emissions continue on their current trajectory.

"The actions that we take now in terms of our fossil fuel emissions are going to have a significant impact on how much permafrost is lost and in turn how much carbon is released from permafrost," she said.

There was a further warning from Ricarda Winkelman of the Potsdam Centre for Climate Research in Germany, of dramatic sea level rise as a result of Antarctic ice sheet melt.

"In some places the ice thickness actually exceeds 4,000 metres (13,100 feet) which is about as much as 10 times the Empire State Building stacked on to each other," she said.

"If you take that ice volume and distribute it over the entire ocean, then sea level would rise globally by five metres for the West Antarctic ice sheet and by 50 metres for the East Antarctic ice sheet."

A picture taken by NASA's Aqua satellite taken on September 3, 2010 shows the extent of the Arctic sea ice
A picture taken by NASA's Aqua satellite taken on September 3, 2010 shows the extent of the Arctic sea ice

Dirk Notz of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg said Artic sea ice may be gone by mid-century under high emissions scenarios, having declined by 50 percent in the past decade alone.

"So far these negotiations have been driven by the feeling this is something that will happen at some point," he said. "We are not speaking about the future here, but we are talking about ongoing changes."

Pam Pearson of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, underlined sea ice loss and permafrost thaw are "irreversible".

"This is not like air pollution or water pollution where if you clean it up you will go back to the way it was before," she said.

"It cannot go back to the way it was before and I think that is the most important aspect that still hasn't found its way into the negotiations."

The Paris agreement will be supported by a roster of national pledges for emissions curbs. Pledges to date are not nearly enough to reach the 2C goal, according to scientists and observers.

Negotiators in Bonn have mandated the joint chairmen of the talks to craft an alternative streamlined draft of the Paris pact for further discussion.

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14 comments

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leetennant
5 / 5 (7) Jun 09, 2015
Boom. And we're done. Thanks for playing.
gkam
3.4 / 5 (5) Jun 10, 2015
Let's hear the Deniers.
jeffensley
1 / 5 (6) Jun 10, 2015
Just to see if I understand this correctly... organic material that was mobile prior to the previous Ice Age (which we've been naturally emerging from) and which will be mobile again whether we speed up warming or not, is going to create "out of control" warming? When this material was mobile in the environment before, why didn't we have out of control warming? How did the Earth manage to enter an Ice Age with all that greenhouse material free in the environment? It feels like we continue to make these statements out of sheer ignorance (and of course fear) as to how this process works. We understand (fairly well) how one or two of the components operate, take that understanding and give it major significance, and assume we understand the rest, which we do not.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (5) Jun 10, 2015
So, according to the IPCC the MWP was much warmer, so what happened to the permafrost?
http://en.wikiped...1(c).png

More fodder for the ignorant AGW Chicken Littles.
gkam
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 10, 2015
"More fodder for the ignorant AGW Chicken Littles."
--------------------------------

Nope, that was from ignorance, while we worry because of science.

And what did you do when the two draft-dodgers screamed "WMD!" and "Bring 'em on!", while cowering in their bunkers and undisclosed locations? I knew better, and tried and tried to tell you folk how you were being manipulated, played like a cheap kazoo.
Captain Stumpy
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 10, 2015
Just to see if I understand this correctly... ...is going to create "out of control" warming?
@jeff
try re-reading that:
the article states
Releasing the carbon will create a vicious cycle in Earth's global-warming problem, said Susan Natali of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts.
this is because observation & measurement etc in validated studies like Lacis et al
This is likely what they are referring to
organic material that was mobile
Are you saying the permafrost is dead animals?
Permafrost is soil, rock or sediment that is frozen more than two consecutive years

https://en.wikipe...rmafrost

Soils, in general, are the largest reservoirs of carbon in terrestrial ecosystems. This is also true for soils in the Arctic that are underlain by permafrost

http://[url=https//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permafrost_carbon_cycle

I seldom see soil or grasses galloping around or "mobile"
(Sarc/satire)
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2015
"More fodder for the ignorant AGW Chicken Littles."
--------------------------------

Nope, that was from ignorance, while we worry because of science.

And what did you do when the two draft-dodgers screamed "WMD!" and "Bring 'em on!", while cowering in their bunkers and undisclosed locations? I knew better, and tried and tried to tell you folk how you were being manipulated, played like a cheap kazoo.
Yeah but you did it by making up outrageous lies and then claiming that they had to be true because you were a vet.

And so nobody fucking believed you.

What did you expect?
gkam
5 / 5 (2) Jun 13, 2015

"I seldom see soil or grasses galloping around or "mobile""
------------------------------------

Perhaps it is all in the rumen.

(more Sarc/satire)
Returners
1 / 5 (4) Jun 13, 2015
The dinosaurs and other megafauna did perfectly well given much warmer temperatures than today.

Life will thrive under warmer conditions.

All that baaaaad old carbon locked up in the frozen soils will get converted into trees, shrubs, and grasses, and fuel the expansion of baaaaad old wildlife such as deer in canada and Russia.

"I seldom see soil or grasses galloping around or "mobile".


Me neither, but we see scads of deer galloping around, and they eat grasses and acorns.
RealityCheck
4 / 5 (4) Jun 13, 2015
Hi Returners. :)

Mate, it's not as rosy as you paint it. The weather extremes and pests/diseases and their vectors will spread further afield than present. It will devastate established populations, agriculture, transportation etc.; disrupt Forest cover trees/shrubs reproduction.

One example of what is happening is seen in recent observation of Polar Bears who are eating Dolphins which wandered north with the warming currents...and got trapped under ice so had to breathe through breathing-holes in the ice where Polar Bears ambush them as they do Seals.

Further warming will make the sea ice cover less contiguous/persistent, and both the seals and the newcomer dolphins won't be restricted to breathe at breathing-holes much anymore. And that will be disaster for Polar bears who depend on much of their hunting process/success on the breathing-hole which currently the seals are forced to surface at.

Mate, be careful what you wish for...you just might get it...in spades! :)
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (3) Jun 14, 2015
Perhaps it is all in the rumen
@gkam
ROTFLMFAO
made me spit out my coffee!

Me neither, but we see scads of deer...
@returners
perhaps you should re-read the comments above about what permafrost actually is... sorry, but it is not made of DEER

recent observation of Polar Bears who are eating Dolphins
@RealityCheck
i had not seen anything about this: do you have a reference or link?
thanks
Vietvet
5 / 5 (5) Jun 14, 2015
RealityCheck
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 14, 2015
@Stumpy.
recent observation of Polar Bears who are eating Dolphins
@RealityCheck
i had not seen anything about this: do you have a reference or link?
thanks


Here is the PO article link...

http://phys.org/n...tic.html

.
jeffensley
1 / 5 (2) Jun 14, 2015
Are you saying the permafrost is dead animals?
Permafrost is soil, rock or sediment that is frozen more than two consecutive years

https://en.wikipe...rmafrost

No, what I'm saying is prior to the soil becoming permafrost, it was allowed to behave in the exact same way that it will when it thaws again... meaning decomposition, plants growing, carbon fixation, etc.... soil constituents were mobile in that they were able to interact with the atmosphere.

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