Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Grasshopper Nite

Of all the scenarios for runaway climate change, the one that raises the hair on my back the most is the one where as the perma frost continues to move north, it begins to thaw and put carbon into the atmosphere, rather than take it out.

Scientific American has a new story that shows that the arctic soil has a lot more carbon in it than anyone imagined. Here's part of the story:

Big Thaw of Arctic Soil May Unleash Runaway Warming
Scientific American
By David Biello
August 26, 2008

New estimates show that frozen Arctic soil contains far more potential greenhouse gas than previously recognized--and could speed climate change as it melts

"Drunken" trees listing wildly, cracked highways and sinkholes—all are visible signs of thawing Arctic permafrost. When this frozen soil warms, it releases carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases as microbes start to thrive on the organic material it contains—a potentially potent source of uncontrollable climate change.

Now new research published in Nature Geoscience shows that such frozen Arctic soil holds nearly twice as much of the organic material that gives rise to planet-warming greenhouse gases as previously estimated."When the air temperature rises two to three degrees, the Arctic tundra would switch from a carbon sink to a carbon source," says soil scientist Chien-Lu Ping of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"The greater the carbon stores, the greater the impact it causes," including even faster warming in the already changing Arctic.

Previous estimates of the amount of carbon stored in Arctic soil had relied on samples taken outside of the region or those from only the topmost layer—accessible by shovel. As a result, these surveys failed to account for organic material deeper down.

So Ping and his colleagues used portable jackhammers to chisel their way three feet (a meter) or more into a variety of landscapes in the Alaskan Arctic, 117 sites in all. Excavating these soil pits, the scientists found that permafrost areas were quickly storing plants and other organic material deep beneath the surface, as much as 10 feet (three meters) in some cases.

The key is the thawing and freezing of the surface layer as well as some of the unique soil formations of the Arctic region, according to Ping. "Frost boils"—deep soil that roils to the surface like bubbles in a boiling pot—and ground cracks allow topsoil to slip below the surface and come into contact with the deep permafrost.

This keeps the soil from decomposing—and thereby traps more than 98 petagrams (98 million billion grams) of carbon, or one sixth the total in the atmosphere, according to biogeochemist Christian Beer of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany.

Warming could release most of that carbon. "Warming will increase the decomposition rate of the soil organic matter and more carbon dioxide will be generated," Ping notes. And "warming will thaw the permafrost and release the sequestered carbon," which will also decompose faster in the warmer temperatures." more

The air temperatures in parts of the Arctic are increasing at rates well beyond the increases we are seeing at the mid latitudes, sometimes by as much as 12 degrees (F) warmer than the overall average. And the "Permafrost temperatures in Alaska have gone up about 1 degree Centigrade over the last 50 years. In Russia, where they've been monitoring permafrost for over a century, it has warmed up by 2 degrees Centigrade.

And as the Arctic ice continues to recede, one study suggests that Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate."

Meanwhile, last years ice melt has caused some scientists to say that, "At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012. "

Yet, count the times you hear climate change mentioned tonight at the DNC.

Count the times you hear about the tundra time bomb in the MSM.

Count the years we have to make a difference,

Before it's a Run Run Runaway.

And the starship itself

Sails out into the grasshopper nite.


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