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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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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Based on their inaction and their stated desire for inaction: Canada, Russia, and the USA.

    • by war4peace (1628283) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:14PM (#38222186)

      That's because both politicians AND industrialists just see lots of fast profit from permafrost thawing, namely more usable land (and whatever might reside beneath).
      What would happen with the planet 100 years from now is irrelevant to them; they will be all dead at that time.

      • 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 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.

            • by khallow (566160)
              Or one can make a corduroy road [wikipedia.org]. It's made of logs and not particularly hard to put together.
              • by Luckyo (1726890)

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

                If solution was that simple, they wouldn't have this problem in Russia. Taiga is choke full of trees.

                • 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 G3ckoG33k (647276) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @03:22AM (#38223906)

                Apropos "corduroy roads", corduroy fabric in Danish is Jernbanefløjl, which translated literally means - railway velvet! :)

          • 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 lexsird (1208192)

            Hovercraft technology for the win here. Just go sliding across it at about 300 mph trying to bull's eye bears and moose along the way. Seriously people, adapt or die.

        • by Genda (560240)

          The problem is that besides the fact that you might gain a little land in the extreme latitudes, you render huge regions in the tropical and temperate zones as dessert. The net loss of viable/arrible land for human habitat and development would be mind boggling. Anyone in extreme climates who thinks we should go through the kind of warming being described here, for their own benefit, at the detriment to billions of others living in more central latitudes is a shortsighted despot.

          • by Fluffeh (1273756)

            for their own benefit, at the detriment to billions of others living in more central latitudes is a shortsighted despot.

            Welcome to the world we live in. The common good, altruism and generally being the "good guys" are ideologies of generations before the ones currently - at least for the most part. Welcome to the world of no direct consequences, it's like living in the internet, but in real life.

            • Bullshit.

              Those ideologies were always there, and they're still here. They just take a back seat to money.

              That, like politics, haven't changed since ancient Greece, and no doubt since even before that.

            • by Moofie (22272)

              "ideologies of generations before the ones currently"

              *snort* Which generations were those, exactly?

      • by scamper_22 (1073470) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @11:36PM (#38222742)

        I'm neither a politician or an industrialist...

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

        2. In as much as there are downsides to global warming (floods, heat deaths...), there are benefits (more usable land up north, easier shipping, fewer cold deaths...)

        It might be a good idea to just start dealing with a warmer planet. Embrace the good effects. Try to counter the bad ones (build levies/flood protection, move from low lying area...) and address our pollution as technology and time permits.

        What will happen to the planet 100 years from now? I really don't think the planet will be in devastating shape... even with a few degrees warming. Life will go on. Don't think I'm underestimating here. I"m sure many parts of the world will feel the huge impacts, especially coastal cities when sea levels rise. But life will go on and we will adapt, even if we have to evacuate Miami.

        • by haruchai (17472) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @12:13AM (#38222982)
          Yes, life will go on and we will adapt but a lot of us will find life to be even nastier, more brutish and much shorter than it is now. The human race is not going to die out but I think a lot of the progress of the 20th century will be reversed, especially in the area of international cooperation. And, if the very worst predictions do start to come through, I wouldn't rule out another World War.
        • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Sabriel (134364)

          It used to be the atmospheric warming that concerned me, however ocean acidification is a bigger concern. I mean, four degrees warmer? Like you say, pros and cons, even if the weather'll get pretty wild in parts. But the ocean pH worsens by four? Marine life as we know it pretty much goes bye-bye. And even tiny changes in ocean pH is still bad news, since it's a logarithmic effect. Lot of coral reefs are already bleaching out.

        • In the long run, I'm sure the 5% or so of humanity that survives the destruction of most major cities due to direct flooding, the collapse of the ecosystem, the collapse of agriculture, and famine on a scale never experienced before, and has to live with crippling survivors' guilt and massive psychological trauma, and has to completely reinvent food production and rebuild civilization from the ground up, will be fine.

      • by khallow (566160) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @11:56PM (#38222890)
        Before we commence with the hand wringing, shouldn't we first show there's a problem that will get substantially worse in a mere century? You can't expect someone to change their behavior based on supposition.
      • What would happen with the planet 100 years from now is irrelevant to them; they will be all dead at that time.

        I'm worried that the critical point is much closer than 100 years from now. And while I'm willing to attribute many of Congress's bad decisions to greed and graft, I think a large part of their inaction on climate issues is that they simply can't grasp the concept that global warming can really be a significant problem.

    • It's not that they don't care, it's that the cost to them of committing to the same level of change is much higher--so they don't care enough to make it happen.

      Also, you forgot China. It's not like their pollution problem is an eensy-weensy one.

    • If you had ever been really, truly cold, then you would understand why the folk in Canada and Russia could really give a damn that global warming is flooding your Florida swamp real-estate.

      So, without further ado: The Cremation of Sam McGee [wordfocus.com].

      • When you're really, truly cold, a snowbank feels like a feather pillow, and you just want to snuggle up to it and go to sleep.

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:13PM (#38222164)
    If clathrate gun hypothesis [wikipedia.org] is correct, the things may become interesting during our lifetime (which may be a shorter one).
    • by MachDelta (704883)

      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... most notably in connection with the Permian extinction event

      Oh... well, fuck.

      • Those poor trilobites.
        • by c0lo (1497653)
          Well, let's add a bit of info [wikipedia.org], see how different our situation is from the trilobites:

          One exception, however, may be in clathrates associated with the Arctic ocean, where clathrates can exist in shallower water stabilized by lower temperatures rather than higher pressures; these may potentially be marginally stable much closer to the surface of the sea-bed, stabilized by a frozen 'lid' of permafrost preventing methane escape. [...]They conclude that "release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage [is] highly possible for abrupt release at any time". That would increase the methane content of the planet's atmosphere by a factor of twelve,[16][17] equivalent in greenhouse effect to a doubling in the current level of CO2.

          • Doesn't sound a whole lot more reassuring. Especially the 'potentially be marginally stable' part. Especially if the permafrost lid gets opened up. Which is exactly the scenario that TFA is discussing.

            We're doomed.

    • 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.

      • Of course, I am just a layman and certainly not a climatologist, so my initial, and admittedly superficial interpretation could be way off.

        Oh, come on, didn't you see The Day After Tomorrow [imdb.com]? Hollywood overdramatization at its most extreme, to the point of making a joke out of the subject. Still, there are lots of "white planet" simulation results that get to white quickly (how quickly depends on the models used) and either never recover, or recover very slowly.

        No realistic climate models have the Earth long-term stable like Daisyworld [wikipedia.org]

        • by Rockoon (1252108)
          Why are they using multiple models?

          Surely one is better than the others??

          I wonder if the model they know to be best is one of the ones they point at most often.
          • Why are they using multiple models? Surely one is better than the others??

            Every model has to abstract from certain things - the only thing that is a perfect model of a system is an exact copy of the system, and we don't have a second Earth stashed away in the backyard. Different models made different simplifying assumptions (use different cell size for the simulation, incorporate different feedbacks, use simpler couplings between ocean and atmosphere, and so on). By using a range of different models, we get an idea of how much these simplifications affect the results. So we get a

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        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.

        If some floods isolated in Thailand causes worldwide harddisk shortages [itnews.com.au], can you extrapolate what it would be when such floods will become more pervasive? When the current generation is highly dependent on FaeceBook (by extension: communication; not that this communication helps them dealing with the problems) and self-reliant to a minimum?

    • Yeah, so capture the methane, burn it and get CO2 and water. Oh, wait....

      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        How do you propose to capture methane dribbling out over hundreds of thousands of sq. miles/km of land and sea? It's definitely better to convert methane to CO2 and water than to leave it as methane.

    • by khallow (566160) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @11:35PM (#38222738)
      The simple rebuttal is why hasn't the "clathrate gun" gone off [scientificamerican.com] some time in the past 650,000 years? From the link:

      The ice core data also shows that CO2 and methane levels have been remarkably stable in Antarctica--varying between 300 ppm and 180 ppm--over that entire period and that shifts in levels of these gases took at least 800 years, compared to the roughly 100 years in which humans have increased atmospheric CO2 levels to their present high. "We have added another piece of information showing that the timescales on which humans have changed the composition of the atmosphere are extremely short compared to the natural time cycles of the climate system," says Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland, who led the research.

      There have been several shifts from glacial to interglacial climates during that time. My view is that if massive methane releases were a threat now, then we would have seen something similar during one of these times.

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        The simple rebuttal is why hasn't the "clathrate gun" gone off [scientificamerican.com] some time in the past 650,000 years?

        You know, my investment institution makes the point of "Past performance is not an indication of future performance" quite often, so I'm not quite willing to consider the question of "Why hasn't it gone off?" as a rebuttal... even though it does have a value as a question.

        You see... I willing to bet the last 650,000 years didn't see an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico either. Neither did they see a so high concentration of power in the hands of pure economically (read: "greed") driven and short term focused

        • by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:45AM (#38223514) Journal

          You see... I willing to bet the last 650,000 years didn't see an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico either.

          You might lose that bet. A LOT of oil spills into the gulf every year naturally, and it wouldn't be surprising if there were a rupture after an earthquake that released a lot of oil at the same time.......at least once in the last 650,000 years.

        • by khallow (566160) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @04:55AM (#38224236)

          You know, my investment institution makes the point of "Past performance is not an indication of future performance" quite often, so I'm not quite willing to consider the question of "Why hasn't it gone off?" as a rebuttal... even though it does have a value as a question.

          The point here is that Earth has gone through several very significant bouts of global warming in the past 650k years which more or less are similar to the situation that you are worried about. If there had been a history of methane spikes in the record, then your concerns would have merit. But scientists apparently do not see a record of that.

          Unlike the financial performance of ephemeral investment brokerages, there really is a case for past performance indicating future performance.

        • by khallow (566160)

          Neither did they see a so high concentration of power in the hands of pure economically (read: "greed") driven and short term focused (read: "Next bonuses round") entities.

          In other words, the Dirt God is going to strike us down because our leaders are self serving bastards. I thought that kind of thinking stopped working early on in the Age of Enlightenment, centuries ago.

  • Jobs (Score:4, Funny)

    by masternerdguy (2468142) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:13PM (#38222168)
    Permafrost makes it harder to dig, hurting the economy and killing jobs. That's why everyone hates it.
    • 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)

        If you want to live and work in a bog swarming with bugs, go for it.

        The 600,000+ people living in Washington, DC don't seem to mind too much.

        • by Llyr (561935)

          If you want to live and work in a bog swarming with bugs, go for it.

          The 600,000+ people living in Washington, DC don't seem to mind too much.

          Some politicians are sufficiently toxic that I doubt the bugs would go after them.

    • Go ahead and stay home from school. The world needs ditch-diggers too.

      Hard digging is good for jobs. :)

  • Flawed data (Score:5, Funny)

    by Waffle Iron (339739) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:34PM (#38222336)

    Arctic temperatures are *not* rising. The data is flawed because the sensors are all set up near Santa's Village, which has been experiencing massive growth over the past few decades as increasing numbers of spoiled kids get more gifts each year. The resulting urban heat island effect (amplified by primitive and inefficient elven HVAC technology) has severely skewed all the Arctic numbers, and the rising temps are just an illusion.

  • by paiute (550198) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:38PM (#38222358)
    Because 1. Man is influencing the climate, 2. Most of this change is going to be bad, 3. There is no political or social will to change our current behavior, and 4. Once shit hits the ecological fan, those with resources will shield themselves from the effects and those without resources will be fucked.
    • by Nursie (632944) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:53PM (#38222454)

      Yup.

      Came to this conclusion a long time ago. Humanity ain't gonna get off its collective backside and do anything, least of all when there's profit in breaking any collective agreements, so I may as well just sit back and enjoy the ride.

    • by EdIII (1114411) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @11:06PM (#38222552)

      There really isn't any point.

      1) The majority of people are split across party lines and anti-science.
      2) Religious nutbags are everywhere that have the sole justification that climate science is wrong because scientists calculated the age of the Earth incorrectly, and that Man could not possibly affect God's creation.
      3) The absolutely ludicrous position is put forward constantly that business and economic considerations must be factored in. That's like arguing on a sinking ship about the value of the cargo.

      Irrational and illogical behavior coupled with outright greed and shortsightedness makes it impossible to affect change through legislation. I honestly could not give a fuck about any further research. It does not take a rocket scientist (or a climatologist) to figure out that we have an affect on our environment through our actions with 7 billion people on the planet.

      There is one person that I control. Myself. To that end, I do what I can to minimize my own footprint on this planet, and that is all I can do.

      Talking is bullshit because nobody is capable of listening, and anyone that does actually listen, is marginalized and has practically no effect. You nailed that. Social will is non-existent. Basically, no one is willing to suffer to get things back to where they need to be. That goes for a lot more than the environment.

      I can explain, politely, why it is such a bad idea to buy bottled water, etc. but friends and family still do it anyways because of convenience. I actually got asked why I did not have bottled water from a guest like I was a bad host. I pointed to the glasses and the RO system and this person was indignant because that seemed like more work than getting a bottle from the refrigerator.

      Technology and science is not our problem. We are the problem because of how we act globally as a group.

    • Because 1. Man is influencing the climate, 2. Most of this change is going to be bad, 3. There is no political or social will to change our current behavior, and 4. Once shit hits the ecological fan, those with resources will shield themselves from the effects and those without resources will be fucked.

      1. Yep
      2. People hate change, period. Even change for the better is uncomfortable.
      3. Ever notice how well the conservatives do in politics?
      4. As if those without resources are doing so well right now, or 100 years ago?

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      ... those with resources will shield themselves from the effects and those without resources will be fucked.

      There's a limit to how much the well resourced can shield themselves. What happens to the riffraff will have an effect on them too.

    • by cultiv8 (1660093)
      I just look for the funny comments.
  • by cosm (1072588) <thecosm3@EEEgmail.com minus threevowels> on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @10:40PM (#38222378)
    As the globe continues to warm, eventually the Northwest Passage will be a viable route for less ice-hardy vessels more times out of the year, providing economic benefit for those who could utilize the shipping routes. I imagine there are lobbies that would love to see this happen. This is speculation, for I do now know if people actively encourage warming. Looking at the CO2 data and its positive correlation to the mean global temperature increase, it seems we may see that route in our lifetime.

    Also as the permafrost disappears, another side affect is a cascading result in the loss of surface ice/snow pack. As the surface area of the snow/ice/arctic shelf shrinks, the Earth's regional albedo will be reduced, ie there will be less radiational cooling and more energy absorbed by the surface. Cycles such as this create feedback loops in the environment that cause these affects to amplify. Lower albedo -> less permafrost/snow/ice/glacier coverage -> more heat -> lower albedo -> ad inifinitum.

    I am not a meteorologist, but based on some cursory research these seem to be realistic eventualities.
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      The northwest passage has always been a viable trade route. Anyone who things otherwise has been listening to warmists spout off that we've never used it. I'll give you three guesses as to why Canada and Russia have so many ice breakers up there.

      • by cosm (1072588)

        The northwest passage has always been a viable trade route. Anyone who things otherwise has been listening to warmists spout off that we've never used it. I'll give you three guesses as to why Canada and Russia have so many ice breakers up there.

        I'm talking about shipping savings by sending unassisted regular old plain jane commercial ships without breakers or breaker escorts.
        See this. (Circe 2008, fairly recently in terms of open-waters shipping history) [grist.org]

        • by cosm (1072588)
          Addendum/self-correction - That example is not the first ever, that article is a bit biased. My point was it will be easier for trade and less icebergs = more ships.
      • by Llyr (561935)

        The northwest passage has always been a viable trade route. Anyone who things otherwise has been listening to warmists spout off that we've never used it. I'll give you three guesses as to why Canada and Russia have so many ice breakers up there.

        Always been viable? The first ship to successfully travel it from west to east took three years [vancouverm...museum.com] (1940-1942). And that wasn't even trying it out as a trade route.

    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @11:32PM (#38222716)

      As the globe continues to warm, eventually the Northwest Passage will be a viable route for less ice-hardy vessels more times out of the year, providing economic benefit for those who could utilize the shipping routes.

      Yes, but a Northwest Passage is a lot less meaningful today than it would have been when Lewis and Clark were looking for it.

      I imagine there are lobbies that would love to see this happen. This is speculation, for I do now know if people actively encourage warming.

      With a national population of 300 million, I am virtually certain that there are lobbies that would love to see almost anything happen. The trick, as a representative of your constituents, is to only listen to those lobbyists who are pushing an idea that will benefit the majority of your constituents without completely screwing some of them. At the national level, this is generally too complicated to evaluate by a mere Congressional staff office, thus explaining the propensity of our representatives to support lobbies that support their re-election campaign instead.

      Looking at the CO2 data and its positive correlation to the mean global temperature increase, it seems we may see that route in our lifetime.

      Looking at the "consensus curve" of warming estimates since 1990, I don't see any oscillations or pullbacks, only continuous upward revision across the board. I can only surmise that future estimates of future warming will, based on this meta-analysis of the estimating trend, be higher than today's estimates for some time to come.

      Living in Florida and expecting my children to die around the year 2080, I'm most interested in sea level rise estimation. Sadly, it does not look like my children will be enjoying my parent's waterfront property in their later life.

      Also as the permafrost disappears, another side affect is a cascading result in the loss of surface ice/snow pack. As the surface area of the snow/ice/arctic shelf shrinks, the Earth's regional albedo will be reduced, ie there will be less radiational cooling and more energy absorbed by the surface. Cycles such as this create feedback loops in the environment that cause these affects to amplify. Lower albedo -> less permafrost/snow/ice/glacier coverage -> more heat -> lower albedo -> ad inifinitum.

      Sooner or later, we will also discover serious mitigating effects, such as increased algal blooms in the ocean that act to sequester carbon, or similar things.

      I am not a meteorologist, but based on some cursory research these seem to be realistic eventualities.

      I don't think the coming generation will escape the Chinese curses [wikipedia.org]: "May you live in interesting times," nor "May the government be aware of you." But since this generation (and the previous) has mostly experienced the worst one: "May your wishes be granted," the next generation or two may be spared that one.

    • 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 symbolset (646467) *
        The albedo feedback is one of the mechanisms for rapid descent into glaciation as well as rapid ascent from it. It's one of the reasons why when we get too close to the cold, the kill-switch wipes out terrestrial animals so fast that we find woolly mammoths frozen in glaciers with daisies in their bellies when the snow melts again. We were slipping back into glaciation there, for about 9,000 years, and getting close to that kill-switch. And it's normal to see the reverse in an interglacial period like we
  • If nothing else, soft-science and government types get a taxpayer paid trip to South Africa for 2 weeks. Do you think they really want to FIX global warming?

    • by Jeremi (14640) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @11:06PM (#38222556) Homepage

      If nothing else, soft-science and government types get a taxpayer paid trip to South Africa for 2 weeks. Do you think they really want to FIX global warming?

      Don't you ever get tired of your mindless, knee-jerk cynicism?

      I think maybe at one time it might have been clever and refreshing to groundlessly accuse people of having a selfish ulterior motive for everything they do. But now that every single freaking person on the Internet automatically responds that way every time anyone does anything, it's just tedious and depressing.

    • by Llyr (561935)
      At least in South Africa at this time of year they may notice the results of global warming themselves. I remember hearing of one climate meeting a few years back that was held in Ottawa in winter; the weather didn't exactly provide an impression of global warming, and may have left attendees thinking that warming might be a good thing.
      • by Capsaicin (412918) *

        I remember hearing of one climate meeting a few years back that was held in Ottawa in winter; the weather didn't exactly provide an impression of global warming ...

        Copenhagen was another example of that It's pretty silly really ... almost as if these egg-heads want us to make decisions based on the data and the maths!?

  • 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.

    I would agree with you, except that we can expect to see exactly the same thing that came out of the last UN climate summit... And the one before that. And the Kyoto accords.

    Namely, nothing. Politicians act on a scale measured by the next election cycle (and can't even manage that lately). I have absolute confidence that our "lea
  • 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.

    • 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.

      I, for one, plan to welcome our new Mosquito Overlords.

      All one hundred billion of them.

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