The Environmental Parliament (EP) released a report yesterday reviewing the most up-to-date research on Arctic permafrost. It unequivocally states that temperature projections due in 2014 from the International Panel on Climate Change are “likely to be biased on the low side” because the models that the IPCC bases its assessments on, do not take into account the positive feedback cycle of permafrost melting and releasing greenhouse gases. “Overall, these observations indicate that large-scale thawing of the permafrost may already have started”, the EP report warns. It calls on governments to monitor permafrost in greater detail and urges communities in permafrost areas to develop plans for managing any damage to infrastructure caused by the frozen soil melting.
But even these calls might be downplaying both the extent of the melting and the severity of the warming it could cause, according to NASA researchers doing groundbreaking research. Using a plane flying just 150 metres above the ground, the team has been measuring levels of both carbon dioxide andmethane above the Arctic.
The NASA team has not yet finished analysing the data, some of which will be presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco next week. But preliminary results are already suggesting that levels of greenhouse gases in some Arctic areas are much higher than climate models have predicted.
So says Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the principal investigator on the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE). “I have been surprised by some of the elevated values that we’ve seen,that indicate the permafrost is melting much faster than expected.”
The findings also suggest that more methane is released than it was ever thought possible. Methane is a potent and toxic, corrosive greenhouse gas that is about 325 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and lasts in the atmosphere hundreds of years. This is being now massively released in amounts far greater than all known models have predicted. This result agrees with other NASA recent studies. NASA’s Dr Charles Miller also says that “All climate models do not have a good grasp on how much methane will be emitted by the melting permafrost.”
NASA collects the data by flying at low altitude, the team is able to measure changes in the levels of gases over much smaller distances and time intervals than previous research flights, which have flown about 2 kilometres higher. “Those get measurements on a regional scale. There’s a great deal of local information to be found flying this close to the surface.” according to Dr Miller. He says the factors driving the release of greenhouse gases are found on these small scales. “The vegetation, the relative heights of the land and the water table – these so called ‘micro-topographic’ variabilities really seem to be driving what’s going on in terms of release of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.”
Another benefit of finer-grained measurements is their ability to give early warning of major change such as the large methane release for instance which is under way, according to Miller.
The team are also doing a lot more repeat measurements over a much longer period of time. Whereas previous studies have typically had four or five flight days over a six-week period, NASA’s Arctic Ice and permafrost melt and methane release project CARVE has flown for two weeks per month between April and October throughout this year. This is its first year of experiments. It will carry out the same pattern of flights over the next four years.
Maybe there is some doubt about all of this but it’s not about whether Climate Change and Global Warming is accelerated from permafrost melt and from Arctic Ice melt.
That Science is settled.
What remains to be understood is this:
How much of the 1700 billion tonnes of carbon locked in the permafrost as frozen organic matter will be released as methane and how much of it will be released as CO2 in this rapid melt.
NASA’s Dr Miller says it depends.
Although any release of greenhouse gas from the Arctic is now catastrophic…
The release of Methane is far more so.
And if the region gets warmer and drier, the microbes that thrive will be the type that produce CO2.
But if it gets warmer and wetter, they will tend to produce more of the potent methane.
And as it turns out now things are becoming warm and wet, so the latter and more global warming magnification effect is in order…
Lemony tidings and all this is reality.
Live with it – Adapt – Or perish.
Methinks, to tell you:
“Go get a rubber boat”