On the Edge of Permafrost Crash

November 29, 2012

Uh oh.

Sydney Morning Herald:

THE world is on the cusp of a “tipping point” into dangerous climate change, according to new data gathered by scientists measuring methane leaking from the Arctic permafrost and a report presented to the United Nations on Tuesday.

“The permafrost carbon feedback is irreversible on human time scales,” says the report, Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost. “Overall, these observations indicate that large-scale thawing of permafrost may already have started.”

While countries the size of Australia tally up their greenhouse emissions in hundreds of millions of tonnes, the Arctic’s stores are measured in tens of billions.

The report estimates the greenhouse gases leaking from the thawing Arctic will eventually add more to emissions than last year’s combined carbon output of the US and Europe – a statistic which means present global plans to hold climate change to an average 2degree temperature rise this century are now likely to be much more difficult.

Until very recently permafrost was thought to have been melting too slowly to make a meaningful difference to temperatures this century, so it was left out of the Kyoto Protocol, and ignored by many climate change models.

“Permafrost emissions could ultimately account for up to 39 per cent of total emissions,” said the report’s lead author, Kevin Schaefer, of the University of Colorado, who presented it at climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar. “This must be factored in to treaty negotiations expected to replace the Kyoto Protocol.”

The rate of melt was “deeply concerning”, said Andy Pitman, the director of Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, an adviser to the Climate Commission, and a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports.

“It had been assumed that on the timescale of the 21st century, that the effects of methane release would be relatively small compared to other effects – that’s why it has been largely left out of the climate models,” Professor Pitman said.

“I think it’s fair to say that until recently climate scientists underrated the rate at which permafrost melt could release methane. I think we’ve been shown to be over-conservative. It’s happening faster than we had thought … This is not good news.”

The report presented to the UN said a tipping point could still be averted if the world moved to cut emissions from fossil fuels fast.



25 Responses to “On the Edge of Permafrost Crash”

  1. otter17 Says:

    I assume this “greenmanbucket” channel on Youtube is a place for some addition videos, Peter?

    If so, I’ll subscribe, for sure.

  2. […] 2012/11/29: PSinclair: On the Edge of Permafrost Crash […]

  3. If you believe man is the cause of “global warming,” you’re an IDIOT! The earth is dynamic, not static. It has been cycling through warming and cooling for billions of years. As little as 10,000 years ago, the Midwest US was covered in a 2 mile thick ice sheet. What do you think caused it to melt and give us the Great Lakes? Global warming!

    Scientists can’t tell us with 100% accuracy what the weather is going to be like 3 days from now and you expect us to believe they can tell us hat the weather will be like in 50 or 100 years? LOL Yeah…. Right!

  4. In this figure by Schaefer (http://thinkprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/NSDIC-Permafrost-New.gif) is the increase of this (i.e. permafrost) C source by 2100.
    “We predict that the PCF will change the arctic from a carbon sink to a source after the mid-2020s and is strong enough to cancel 42–88% of the total global land sink.” (Schaefer, 2011, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0889.2011.00527.x/full)

    Estimating the permafrost-carbon feedback on global warming, Schneider von Deimling, (2011 http://www.biogeosciences-discuss.net/8/4727/2011/bgd-8-4727-2011-print.pdf):

    “… by 2300, more than half of the potentially vulnerable permafrost carbon stock in the upper 3m of soil layer (600–1000 PgC) could be released as CO2, with an extra 1–3% being released as methane.”


    “There are CONSIDERABLE UNCERTAINTIES in the rate and extent of permafrost thaw …”

    … may be:

    “Often, these thaw collapse fens are more wetter, MORE PRODUCTIVE AND SEQUESTER MORE CARBON FOLLOWING PERMAFROST THAW …” (Wisser, 2011 http://igitur-archive.library.uu.nl/fysgeo/2011-0905-200853/esd-2-121-2011.pdf)

  5. Ken Hranicky Says:

    “The report presented to the UN said a tipping point could still be averted if the world moved to cut emissions from fossil fuels fast.”

    yeah, right. Sure we can. Give me a second and I’ll be right back and we will get right on it. Yep, gotta save the planet. So, just give me a sec and I’ll be right back. Gotta make sure the economy is alright and everything. I mean, we can’t have a ‘bad’ economy so just let me check on that and get everything straight and we will jump all over that climate thing you are talking about. Just give me a sec to straighten out this ‘economic’ thing and we’ll be right with you…

    Your patience is appreciated. Thanks.

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