Thawing Permafrost May Be “Huge Factor” in Global Warming

Siberian permafrost -- Ted Schuur
Siberian permafrost — Ted Schuur

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 14 2013 (IPS)

Thawing permafrost is emitting more climate-heating carbon faster than previously realised. Scientists have now learned that when the ancient carbon locked in the ice thaws and is exposed to sunlight, it turns into carbon dioxide 40 percent faster.

“This really changes the trajectory of the debate” over when and how much carbon will be released as permafrost thaws due to ever warmer temperatures in the Arctic, says researcher Rose Cory of the University of North Carolina.

There are 13 million square kilometres of permafrost in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe. As previously reported by IPS, a 2011 study estimated that global warming could release enough permafrost carbon to raise global temperatures three degrees C on top of what will result from human emissions from oil, gas and coal.

Human emissions are headed for four degrees C of global heating,warned the International Energy Agency (IEA) this week. A rapid “decarbonization of electricity supply” is needed to avoid that future, the IEA said as it released a new book titled “Electricity in a Climate-Constrained World”.

“The solutions are well-known: increased energy efficiency, greater research and development of low-carbon energy production, and putting a realistic price on carbon,” the book says

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Record Glacier Melt Down Leads to Drought

By Stephen Leahywinter-melt-gatineau.jpg

Mar 17 (IPS) – Glaciers, the world’s freshwater towers, continue their record-breaking meltdown, a new U.N. report shows.

The average rate of thinning and melting more than doubled between 2004 and 2006, reports the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), a centre based at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

“The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight,” said Wilfried Haeberli, director of the WGMS.

The accelerated glacier meltdown is a clear indicator that climate change has taken hold and millions if not billions will be affected, warned Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Glaciers feed the rivers that people are completely dependent on — 360 million on the Ganges in India and 388 million on the Yangtze in China alone. Reduced water or irregular water flows will make it more difficult to grow crops in these regions and other parts of the world. Rapidly melting glaciers also produce floods and raise sea levels. On average, there is one metre water of fresh water in every 1.1 metres of glacier ice. Continue reading