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Earth Science

Ticking Arctic Carbon Bomb May Be Bigger Than Expected 339

Posted by Soulskill
from the who-invented-carbon-bombs-anyway dept.
sciencehabit writes "Scientists are expressing fresh concerns about the carbon locked in the Arctic's vast expanse of frozen soil. New field studies quantify the amount of soil carbon at 1.9 trillion metric tons, suggesting that previous estimates underestimated the climate risk if this carbon is liberated. Meanwhile, a new analysis of laboratory experiments that simulate carbon release by thawed soil is bolstering worries that continued carbon emissions could unleash a massive Arctic carbon wallop."
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Ticking Arctic Carbon Bomb May Be Bigger Than Expected

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  • by Maow (620678) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @01:37PM (#42226075) Journal

    Sitting at my personal computer, with another in my pocket, both connected to a world-wide network that allows formerly unimaginable near instantaneous communication, let me say that, "Scientists don't know nuthin' - they're just shills in it for the big bucks and I don't believe a word that they say!!!11!"

    /end sad, perplexed, and thoroughly disgusted mode

    • it's a media game (Score:3, Interesting)

      by teslabox (2790587)
      the methane in the oceans is much more of a threat. but we could harvest that and burn it off, which would solve two birds with one stone. It is much better to fear-monger over things we can't do anything about.
      • Erh... hate to break it to you, but the fact that we're burning carbon hydrates is part of the problem in the first place, so I guess your cure is about as good as the disease.

        • by dr2chase (653338)

          Harvesting methane that was going to be emitted anyhow (because of how much we have goosed the climate for the next few centuries with the GHGs we've already emitted) and burning it is a net "win" (which is to say, it is a smaller loss, not an actual win). Otherwise, you get methane's potent effects in the atmosphere for a few decades, then it converts to the same CO2 we would have had from burning it.

          Another unhappy thing I learned today, from a friend who works in the nuclear industry, is that the combin

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Well, *if* we could harness it (it's pretty spread out and working on the ocean bottom isn't exactly easy) burning it off *might* be an improvement over letting it escape, if only because CO2 is a weaker greenhouse gas than methane. On the other hand it might actually make things much worse in the long term since methane has a very short lifetime in the atmosphere, while CO2 remains there for several decades, probably far longer now that the uptake cycles have been saturated.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          What the fuck do you think the methane will break down into?

          • by Immerman (2627577)

            No idea. I have no expertise in the subtleties of atmospheric chemistry, do you? Conversion to water and CO2 seems like a reasonable assumption, but can you cite the vector by which that conversion occurs? For all I know its limited life could be due to being consumed by atmospheric microbes that covert it into cellulose which eventually becomes incorporated into soil.

        • Re:it's a media game (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 08, 2012 @02:28PM (#42226477)

          Methane has a short lifetime because it turns INTO carbon dioxide. Burning it makes that happen a lot faster.

          It's preferable to leave the methane in the clathrate or underground, but if it is coming out and you can't stop it, then it's better to oxidize it right away.

    • Engineers did all that stuff not scientists. (that's humor)
    • Am I just not picking up on the sarcasm? (It's not in your mode specification.) Maybe I'm trying to over explain the joke.

      connected to a world-wide network that allows formerly unimaginable near instantaneous communication

      Unfortunately it allows both good and bad communication. There's plenty of information out there, and there's also plenty of garbage and misinformation out there. And sometimes it can be hard to know which is which.

      I remember some popular web site running this story about NASA finding

  • I'm ready... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @01:43PM (#42226121) Homepage

    There's just no chance that the people with money who pay the people with guns will be able to see beyond their lust for more power and more money. This means things will go to hell with large amounts of certainty.

    If there were profit in saving the world [from those who put us there] then they would be interested in saving the world. They have no interest in that. They might entertain the notion if they were guaranteed to come out on top and in control once the crisis was averted, of course, because this is all about giving up power and control.

    I am an army of one. I cannot make a difference. But if I saw an army of many marching down the street, I would be inclined to join.

    And beyond this, the denial is STILL out there being preached. First they said "it's not real!" Then they said "it's not our fault! It's nature!" Yet in any of this none are willing to make changes or do anything about it. But I don't blame the businesses entirely. It reminds me of the economy of slavery.

    There was a town near New Orleans which abolished slavery before Lincoln did. The surrounding areas, of course, did not. Before long, local business could not compete with outside business. This town was forced into allowing slavery once again. Lincoln was successful because it was a unilateral decision. Individuals cannot make an effective change. Small groups cannot make an effective change. It takes unilateral change in order to work.

    So even if the whole US stopped CO2 and other emissions today, it wouldn't matter because China and others are simply not going to change.

    So you see, the kind of change we require is simply impossible without world war. And that kind of war is simply not going to happen.

    And so I say, I'm ready for things to go to hell. I can't imagine a way out that is likely.

    • Re:I'm ready... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @02:14PM (#42226359)

      See, the country I'm in is well above the sea level, so I guess I should just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

      Problem is that the rats tend to crawl upwards when the ship is sinking.

      • See, the country I'm in is well above the sea level, so I guess I should just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

        Problem is that the rats tend to crawl upwards when the ship is sinking.

        Also, shifts in the weather zones is going to cause a lot of the agricultural Haves to become Have-Nots, and vice versa.

        I suggest that you do your sitting back in a bomb shelter.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by rs79 (71822)

          "Also, shifts in the weather zones is going to cause a lot of the agricultural Haves to become Have-Nots, and vice versa."

          Yes but this happens so slowly man has a chance to adapt. As in adaptation or survival of the fittest. Evolution in action: this is not a test.

          They grow almonds in England now. It's too hot and dry for grain any more.

          Keep in mind the Irish grew potatoes because the climate changed; they used to grow wheat, but it became too cold and damp to do that any more around 800 years ago.

          For those

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Billly Gates (198444)

            I am assuming your are British by your post. But in the States the change can be far more drastic and different as we have semi arid and arid climates in the central and western sections. Go google the "Dustbowls"? They almost destroyed the US agriculture in the 1930s as the dust storms swamped crops for thousands of miles.

            Land is leased and owned by investors with 30 year leases. It is changing so quickly you can't just switch crops. In a dry region you could grow corn in a wet year but wheat is a better b

          • If the Irish had potatoes some 800 years ago, I guess a lot of history books have to be rewritten.

    • Re:I'm ready... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Khashishi (775369) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @02:21PM (#42226423) Journal

      The people in US who don't deny the existence of climate change will keep on blaming China and India as a scapegoat. Meanwhile, it's US, Canada, New Zealand, Russia, and a few other countries which are holding up any kind of international progress from taking place.
      China leads the world in renewable energy investment.
      http://www.forbes.com/sites/jackperkowski/2012/07/27/china-leads-the-world-in-renewable-energy-investment/ [forbes.com]
      I think it's time to get your head out of the sand and admit that you are part of the problem.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by DarkOx (621550)

      My problem with the entire AGW issue is that people don't seem to look at it from the economic perspective. The costs of cutting emissions enough to make even a little difference is huge, and not enough to save us. Even without the thawing methane issue many of the models say we are on course for a 4+ degree rise, and doing enough to slow that by 2 degrees could consume almost our entire GDP! Meanwhile the models also indicate the geo-polictical situation as we know it won't tolerate more than 2 degrees.

      • Re:I'm ready... (Score:4, Informative)

        by erroneus (253617) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @03:05PM (#42226745) Homepage

        The global warming discussion started a VERY long time ago. Concern over emissions and pollution have been an issue for as long as I can remember... so just over 40 years. Things could have been done... should have been done. Not much has actually been done.

        What stupid things have been done? Like "taxing" polution. Seriously. And the rate of taxation was lower than the cost of fixing the problem so guess which way business went? And what was done with the money? It went back into the "enconomy" and by that I mean the major players who are also major polluters.

        Taxing was a stupid idea. Making them ineligible for government contracts would have been the way to go.

      • Side note (Because of your sig)

        Why would you want to repeal the 17th Amendment? I don't see the benefit to the American Government by becoming LESS democratic.
      • My problem with the entire AGW issue is that people don't seem to look at it from the economic perspective. The costs of cutting emissions enough to make even a little difference is huge, and not enough to save us.
        That is your perception. But it is not true. On the other hand: the perception is always the truth in the eye of the perceptee ... so dream on.

    • So even if the whole US stopped CO2 and other emissions today, it wouldn't matter because China and others are simply not going to change.
      It would matte. As 1/3rd of the CO2 emissions would be gone.
      Also you are wrong in the assumption that others are simply not going to change.

      Right now only the USA are not changing, all over the world countries try to limit or reduce their CO2 output.

    • by rs79 (71822)

      "So even if the whole US stopped CO2 and other emissions today, it wouldn't matter because China and others are simply not going to change."

      Man's contribution to CO2 is 2-3%. Even if that were stopped the planet is gonna do what the planet is gonna do. It does that; what what point in earths history was the climate ever *not* changing.?

  • by blind biker (1066130) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @01:44PM (#42226125) Journal

    I'm recovering with a flu so I might have missed something when reading TFA, but this CO2 release seems to be in addition to the expected massive release of methane from frozen Siberian permafrost.

    If so, we're fucked^2 I see no way we can avoid the positive feedback loops of AGW. Sandy will be a pleasant memory from the past, to the citizens of NYC.

    • by rknop (240417)

      That's more or less it.

      I don't think we've yet found enough carbon for the positive feedback loop to take Earth all the way to being like Venus, however.... On the other hand, there's lots of room to be screwed long before you get to Venus status.

      • I don't think we've yet found enough carbon for the positive feedback loop to take Earth all the way to being like Venus, however....

        Maybe not enough "carbon", but definitely enough water.

    • by jovius (974690)

      Indeed we are. Releases from the permafrost are just gone, no way to get them back until the next ice age.

      The negative feedback mechanism will greatly reduce the human population to get things back on track (As illustrated by Humon [deviantart.net])

      • by jovius (974690)

        Oops, sorry. The gases released from the permafrost are just gone to happily reside in the atmosphere, unless the atmosphere freezes for some reason.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 08, 2012 @02:26PM (#42226455)

    Honestly. I am _ALWAYS_ buried into oblivion when this topic comes up without receiving a single honest response. I worked at a small soda bottler for a while and we had multiple semi tankers FULL of carbon dioxide delivered every week. If carbon dioxide is so damaging what about all of it that we're pumping into sodas? "Save the Planet but don't touch my cola"?

    • by jfengel (409917) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @03:22PM (#42226883) Homepage Journal

      Those tankers contain, what, a half-dozen tons of CO2? Probably less than that; the truck can only carry a few dozen tons and the containers themselves far outweigh the mass of the CO2.

      The worldwide CO2 output is on the order of 30 BILLION tons of CO2. All the soda bottlers in the entire world don't add up to a rounding error.

      There, you have an answer. Which you could probably have figured out all by yourself, but I'm sure you enjoy the fact that anonymity means you can ask this all over in the next CO2 thread and pretending nobody ever gives you an answer.

    • by arkhan_jg (618674)

      a) it's only a small amount of CO2 compared to the gigatons pumped out by coal stations, transport networks etc. Hell, the trucks probably emit more CO2 a week than what they were carrying.

      b) I bet that CO2 comes from the air in the first place - as a side product of oxygen compressors, a useful medical and industrial product. Easy way to get a pure source. In which case, who cares? Carbon leaving the air and going back to it fairly soon afterwards is not the problem, such as burning new wood or crops. Its

  • by Mal-2 (675116) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @02:50PM (#42226629) Homepage Journal

    One thing that's readily apparent and not disputed is that our planet's temperature takes wild swings [wikipedia.org]. It's seldom stable, which it seems to have been for several thousand years now. Perhaps our resolution isn't good enough or there's too much noise in the historical data, but it would seem that we live in exceptional times. For the whole system to be able to oscillate that widely, and on relatively short timescales, it MUST be sensitive to positive feedback loops. Runaway processes are apparently the rule rather than the exception.

    This is not to say anything one way or the other about the forcing mechanism. I do believe humans have had an awful lot to do with it this time around. What we didn't realize is that it's like Sisyphus rolling the stone uphill. Either he's rolling it slowly and steadily upward, or it's inexorably moving downhill when he loses control. It may start slowly at first, but once it gets going it's nearly impossible to stop.

    I don't think we as a species are totally fucked, but I do think a whole lot of people are going to die before this all settles out.

    • The wild swings come for what ever reason is causing them (and honestly, I don't find them such wild).

      AGW is a reason we know about ... IMHO that is a difference.

      I do believe humans have had an awful lot to do with it this time around. Then you are just plain stupid.

    • by blindseer (891256)

      I don't think we as a species are totally fucked, but I do think a whole lot of people are going to die before this all settles out.

      I agree. I estimate that more than seven billion people will die before this all settles out. I say that because this is something that will take a lifetime to play out.

      Even if this "carbon bomb" does go off it will take decades, if not centuries, for the planet to warm to a point where it makes any significant effect on our lives. In that time a lot of things of much greater significance could happen.

      For example, we could have a volcanic eruption that spews up so much debris that we could be thankful we

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @02:58PM (#42226687)

    Even worse still, there's a lot of methane trapped in permafrost, which is starting to thaw and release it. Methane's something like 20 times worse than carbon dioxide for global warming effects.

    Katey Walter has been doing demonstrations for 5+ years to try and get it to sink in with people:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oa3M4ou3kvw [youtube.com]

    Then there are the gigatons of frozen methane caltrate which are destabilizing: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/24/14670511-climate-changing-methane-rapidly-destabilizing-off-east-coast-study-finds?lite [nbcnews.com]

    I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that we've long since fucked ourselves over - and the explosion of industrialization in China and India is just sealing the deal. Even if you ignore China and India, we appear to have built up so much momentum that even if we drastically curtailed our carbon and methane outputs (like from the cattle industry) instantly, we're still screwed.

    Time to start planning for the worst.

    • by Xyrus (755017)

      You're just now realizing we're screwed?

      There's a 30 year lag from the introduction of additional CO2 to when it's full effects are felt. So you are correct, even stopping now we would still continue to reap the "benefits" of a warming planet for several decades.

      With our current planetary political insanity when it comes to AGW, I'm expecting we're going to ride this thing whole hog up to the 6C warming mark. When numerous species die off, farmlands become deserts or infested with invasive species, coastal

  • isn't the Arctic like, mostly ocean??

    I would say so. [wikimedia.org]

  • The summary is missing the fine print, namely that this is 13% more than previous estimates and amounts to about 2 years of human carbon emissions. So, whatever is going to happen is going to happen two years earlier. Sure, it's an interesting scientific result, but hardly big news.

  • If the previous climate science was any good, meaning that future estimates were unbiased expressions of the best available current knowledge, then p = 0.5 that any single factor they drill into produces either more (or less) than previously estimated.

    If the media coverage is unbiased, we hear about both cases equally often. For every "Oh my god we're all going to die" headline there's a corresponding headline "Small earthquake in Chile, not many dead" (apparently this headline once made it past a sleepy n

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