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Earth Science

Permafrost Loss Greater Threat Than Deforestation 272

Posted by samzenpus
from the keeping-the-cool dept.
Pierre Bezukhov writes "Emissions from thawing permafrost may contribute more to global warming than deforestation this century, according to commentary in the journal Nature. Arctic warming of 7.5 degrees Celsius (13.5 degrees Fahrenheit) this century may unlock the equivalent of 380 billion tons of carbon dioxide as soils thaw, allowing carbon to escape as CO2 and methane, University of Florida and University of Alaska biologists wrote today in Nature. Two degrees of warming would release a third of that, they said. The Arctic is an important harbinger of climate change because the United Nations calculates it's warming at almost twice the average rate for the planet. The study adds to pressure on United Nations climate treaty negotiators from more than 190 countries attending two weeks of talks in Durban, South Africa that began Nov. 28."
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Permafrost Loss Greater Threat Than Deforestation

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  • Re:Jobs (Score:4, Informative)

    by DanDD (1857066) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:27PM (#38222282)

    Permafrost makes it harder to dig, hurting the economy and killing jobs. That's why everyone hates it.

    Permafrost gives villages something firm to set buildings and roads on. When the permafrost melts, areas typically turn into a marshy bog. This increases the cost of living, travel, infrastructure, etc. The increased insects increase disease.

    If you want to live and work in a bog swarming with bugs, go for it. Perhaps you can explain the benefits to the rather annoyed polar bears, or to all the farmers in Texas, Oklahoma, and most of Colorado and Kansas who will see their land turned into an arid desert.

  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:41PM (#38222386)

    If clathrate gun hypothesis [wikipedia.org] is correct, the things may become interesting during our lifetime (which may be a shorter one).

    It seems that, even if this hypothesis were to be true, our lifetimes would not be affected, nor would those of many generations. You're very source says, in the introduction:"In its original form, the hypothesis proposed that the "clathrate gun" could cause abrupt runaway warming in a timescale less than a human lifetime,[1] and might be responsible for warming events in and at the end of the last ice age.[2] This is now thought unlikely.[3][4] However, there is stronger evidence that runaway methane clathrate breakdown may have caused drastic alteration of the ocean environment and the atmosphere of earth on a number of occasions in the past, over timescales of tens of thousands of years;"

    Even were it to happen, it seems that the methane released by the Arctic permafrost would have an effect equivalent to doubling the levels of CO2. It is certainly serious, but it would not be an immediate extinction event, although there could certainly be localized loss of life through droughts and famine. Of course, I am just a layman and certainly not a climatologist, so my initial, and admittedly superficial interpretation could be way off.

  • by Llyr (561935) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:56PM (#38222480)
    Not sure the Canadian North can count as "more usable land" once thawed -- it's largely frozen muskeg swamp at the moment, somewhat usable due to permafrost since at least that way you don't sink into it.
    There's some interest in the northern seabed for gas exploration.
  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:58PM (#38222490)

    Think about Alaska, think about the size of Alaska, now, cover it in a layer of mossy stuff several feet thick. That mossy stuff is muskeg [wikipedia.org], and if you've ever stepped in a soft spot in the muskeg and sunk up to your hip in the muck, you can easily imagine the whole thing decomposing into methane when it gets warm.

    It doesn't cover all of Alaska, but then, it's not only in Alaska, it's also all over Canada and Siberia.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @11:02PM (#38222532) Homepage Journal

    Not sure the Canadian North can count as "more usable land" once thawed -- it's largely frozen muskeg swamp at the moment, somewhat usable due to permafrost since at least that way you don't sink into it.

    There's some interest in the northern seabed for gas exploration.

    Great bit on the construction of the trans-Alaskan highway, in Mitchner's Alaska. When they tore the top layer off the tundra their equipment, paving, everything sunk into mud. The only way to build roads was on top of the Permafrost. Nobody going to do any mining, drilling or anything else if the ground is thawed and you have the biggest plain of mud in the world between you and your dreamed of profits.

  • by Luckyo (1726890) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @11:28PM (#38222692)

    There is some really good footage when this happened to already build tracks in Russia. Google for it.

    In short: You're going to have to spend HUGE amounts to built any kind of a steel track (and even more to build and maintained a paved road that carries a lot less) to tundra if it thaws. Essentially start hoping that whatever resources you're extracting are close enough to the shore.

  • Re:Northwest Passage (Score:4, Informative)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @11:41PM (#38222786) Journal
    Yep the albedo feedback is the cause of "polar amplification" - the name given to the faster rate of warming in the Artic mentioned in TFS. It's yet another example of a succesful prediction of a previously unknown phenomena by climate models from the 1980's.
  • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @12:33AM (#38223104) Journal

    If the permafrost thaws, the way to recover the land would be to borrow from permaculture principles and let nature do most of the work.

    First, plant fast growing, cold tolerant plants that fix atmospheric nitrogen like Russian Olives, Bog Myrtles, Northern Bayberries and Buffalo Berries. They'll grow like mad and firm up what soil is there. Then you run an annual slash-and-drop program to build soil. You wouldn't need heavy equipment, just chain saws, because you wouldn't be letting anything get particularly large, and you won't be carting anything in or out, so costs would be relatively low.

    Using heavy equipment to cart in material to build up the land when you can let nature do the work would just be stupid.

  • by riverat1 (1048260) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:09AM (#38223312)

    1. There have been reports that we really can't stop global warming anyways. It is "too late".

    It's not a binary issue. The more we increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere the worse it gets on a smooth curve. There is the global warming that's already occurred and is in the pipeline that we can't stop. That includes the fact that once we get really serious about CO2 emissions it will take 30 or 40 years to to build the infrastructure necessary to convert to non-carbon energy sources so CO2 levels will continue to rise until then. But in the end the total global warming we will see (barring a significant change in the Sun) is largely set by the maximum level that CO2 reaches in the atmosphere. There is good reason to slow down and eventually stop carbon dioxide emissions to keep things from getting worse than they already have to be.

  • Re:USA USA USA! (Score:5, Informative)

    by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:59AM (#38223570)

    1) And the US has a metric shit ton more resources than Germany. Your point?
    2) You fail basic economics. If the mark or the euro are overvalued, exports are terrible because they're more expensive than local goods. Try again.
    3) A declining population has nothing to do with economic greatness. Unless you're thinking immigration - in which case, the US is trying real hard to come down to Europe's level.
    4) You know squat about German corporate taxes, squat about US taxes and even less about real corporate taxes that arise from such niceties as the dutch sandwich or various indirect contributions.
    5) You also know squat about the German university system. Anyone can go to University, except those who keep failing their High School classes. Those that do fail classes go to technical trade schools. It's exactly like the US system, except it's predicated on grades rather than money.
    6) Your choice.
    7) You're making a lot of assumptions about future events. Would you also like a pony?
    8) No idea how that bit of (factual, for once) information relates to how well Germany is doing.
    9) Yes, you can get fancy food all over the place. That said, I'd rather walk into a random Braustaette than a random American diner.
    10) Your info is about 3 years out of date. In the meantime, the Porsche Panamera bettered the laptime by about 4 seconds.

    There are a ton of reasons why Germany has a ton of problems and is worse than the US, but for some reason, you managed to barely allude to only one in your list of ten.

  • Re:USA USA USA! (Score:5, Informative)

    by nedlohs (1335013) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @02:30AM (#38223684)

    2) Germany's standard of living is based on an export driven economy that essentially relies on the fact that first the mark and now the euro are way overvalued relative to the us dollar.

    An overvalued currency harms exports - it makes your prices higher than those of places without overvalued currencies. (And nothing is overvalued relative to the US dollar - well OK, US treasuries but those are really just future US dollars anyway).

    3) Germany has a declining population - if Germany was so great, why do they have a forecast net population decline? By contrast, the USA has a population that is growing the fastest out of any of the NATO nations.

    So your logic has Ethiopia, Liberia, Somalia, etc. as being "greater" than the US? And Luxemburg and Turkey have faster growing populations than the USA so your facts are wrong too.

    4) German corporations have a -lower- tax rate than American ones do. Oops, did I say that? Also, German laws are absolutely brutal for debt collection compared to American ones. If you, in America, blow off paying a loan bank, you get a bunch of angry letters and pissy phone calls and for the most part that's really all about they can do to you. In Germany, they can just come and start taking your shit away.

    15% business tax + 15% corporate tax + 5.5% solidarity tax is much lower than a 15-35% federal + 0-12% state progressive scheme? That would depend entirely on which two locations in the countries you are comparing the income of the corporation. Pick a US corporation booking its income in a state with a 12% corporate income tax then sure, saner corporations not so much.

      And having consequences for your actions is a bad thing now?

    7) Speaking of taxed to the hilt, Germans are actually more in debt per capita than Americans are, and the American financial picture improves rather dramatically when the Bush tax cuts expire, and the budget sequesters kick in.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_external_debt [wikipedia.org]

    You ignore half the equation. Germany has more external assets than the US. if I owe $5,000 on my credit card but have $6,000 in my checking account I'm in better shape than the guy who only owes $4,000 on his credit card but has $3,500 in his checking account.

    Subtract external debts from external assets and Germany is at +$1.2 trillion (USD) while the USA is at -$2.4 trillion (USD). Note that Japan, whom Americans who like to pretend debt doesn't matter love to cite, is at +$3.4 trillion (USD).

  • by khallow (566160) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @04:44AM (#38224182)

    You do realize that this wouldn't work? Logs would shift, and the road would destroy itself in a matter of months.

    If you had read the Wikipedia article, you'd see that corduroy roads are built even now (they have a picture of a large excavator building a corduroy road) and that sometimes, particularly in acidic conditions, such as muskeg [wikipedia.org] which appears to be the tundra soil type that you're speaking of, the roads can last a number of years (see that link for discussion of modern construction of corduroy roads in precisely the sort of conditions you are speaking of, BTW). For example, parts of the Alaskan Highway used to be gravel over a corduroy road and were in use from 1943 through to the 90s!

  • by shilly (142940) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @08:02AM (#38224854)

    Perhaps you ought to read Collapse by Jared Diamond. It has a famous passage about people chopping down trees.

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky

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