Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Runaway Climate Change? Massive Methane Release off Siberia? Nah, Let's Talk About Wall Street Instead!

On the upper decks of our "Titanic", everyone is worried stiff about a crisis on Wall Street. At Harpers' request, "Gone are the opening and closing statements by respective leaders [in the TV debate]. Instead, they’ll devote the first 30 minutes of the two-hour debate to the economy." According to the Conservatives, "...the economic discussion should occur first, before debate on less urgent issues". What might the "less urgent issues" be? Health care, child care, elder care, First Nations poverty, the Afghan War, the need for artists to have more babies -- or are they hoping that most people would tune out before they get to talk about climate change?

As we've said before, you cannot debate the economy without debating the environment. We hope that the other party leaders would make this point very strongly as all of them know it. Here's an example why it's urgent that they make the link:

(Insert ominous music here.) Scientists have found methane bubbling up from the sea at 100 times the background level over huge areas of the Russian arctic. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, 21 times stronger than CO2. The additional trapped heat may melt more permafrost, releasing more of the methane underneath. More methane -- more melting -- more methane -- it could be a vicious cycle, the much-dreaded "runaway warming" that we may not be able to stop.
"For the average person, it's one more piece of evidence... that the urgency of addressing the issue is there"

-- Dale Marshall, David Suzuki Foundation (see "Canadian Reaction" below).
Here are more details:
"The scientists who have studied methane levels along Russia's northern coastline are aboard the Russian research ship Jacob Smirnitskyi.

"Örjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University in Sweden told the Independent newspaper in an email from the vessel: 'An extensive area of intense methane release was found. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane.

"'Yesterday, for the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface. These 'methane chimneys' were documented on echo sounder and with seismic [instrument].'

"At some locations he said concentrations of the gas were 100 times the background level. These anomalies were documented in the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea, covering several tens of thousands of square kilometres.

"Gustafsson added: 'The conventional thought has been that the permafrost 'lid' on the sub-sea sediments on the Siberian shelf should cap and hold the massive reservoirs of shallow methane deposits in place.

'The growing evidence for release of methane in this inaccessible region may suggest that the permafrost lid is starting to get perforated and thus leaking methane.'"

Source: Methane release off Siberian coast prompts concern over runaway climate change | Environment | guardian.co.uk (bolding added)
More details:
"The preliminary findings of the International Siberian Shelf Study 2008, being prepared for publication by the American Geophysical Union, are being overseen by Igor Semiletov of the Far-Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Since 1994, he has led about 10 expeditions in the Laptev Sea but during the 1990s he did not detect any elevated levels of methane. However, since 2003 he reported a rising number of methane 'hotspots', which have now been confirmed using more sensitive instruments on board the Jacob Smirnitskyi.

"Dr Semiletov has suggested several possible reasons why methane is now being released from the Arctic, including the rising volume of relatively warmer water being discharged from Siberia's rivers due to the melting of the permafrost on the land.

"The Arctic region as a whole has seen a 4C rise in average temperatures over recent decades and a dramatic decline in the area of the Arctic Ocean covered by summer sea ice. Many scientists fear that the loss of sea ice could accelerate the warming trend because open ocean soaks up more heat from the sun than the reflective surface of an ice-covered sea."

Source: Exclusive: The methane time bomb - Climate Change, Environment - The Independen

Note the upcoming publication of a scientific study based on the findings by the American Geophysical Union.

Canadian reaction:

"Marianne Douglas, the head of the Canadian Circumpolar Institute at the University of Alberta, said this latest research raises some important questions.

"'It's a time bomb because, as the permafrost thaws -- and we don't know how fast it will thaw -- it's going to slowly and maybe catastrophically at some point, release all that methane that's trapped underneath as a solid,' she said.

"Some scientists believe that the sudden release of methane may have been responsible for sudden spikes in global temperatures millions of years ago.

"'In the geological record, there's evidence about 55 million years ago about this having happened as well in the past,' Douglas said, adding a huge burst of methane warmed the temperature of the Earth by up to 6C over a 20,000 year period.

"'From the geological record, they can see that this actually ended up with some extinctions of small micro-organisms and the onset of new organisms, like mammals.'

"Instead of losing hope over this scenario and giving up on fighting climate change, Dale Marshall, an Ottawa-based climate change policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation, said people should interpret this research as being another reason to combat global warming.

"Scientists say polar sea ice is melting, which allows more sunlight to penetrate ocean water. That water heats up, melting the permafrost on the ocean floor that has, up until now, prevented large releases of methane.

"'For the average person, it's one more piece of evidence and one more confirmation that the urgency of addressing the issue is there,' Marshall said.

"'This is one of the pieces of evidence that may point to the fact that we're approaching that kind of a scenario where greenhouse gas emissions accumulate in the atmosphere to the point where you get a cascading series of events that leads to more and more climate change that's hard to turn around at that stage.'"

Source: Study says methane from ocean floor is 'time bomb' (CP via CTV News)

For now, the Globe & Mail says, "Harper majority a concern to more than half of Canadians: poll":

"More than half of Canadian voters say they're worried about the thought of giving Stephen Harper a majority government, but most wouldn't change their vote to prevent it.

"Strider: Are you frightened?
"Frodo: Yes.
"Strider: Not nearly frightened enough."

(Lord of the Rings: Fellowship... movie)
Vote strategically to save the climate, before it's too late -- any of the opposition parties are much better than the Conservatives!

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