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 Home >> Eco Scope >> Global Warming
 Siberian permafrost is a methane time-bomb
By Nina Nair Hi-Tech Editorial Division
Published on March 7, 2008, 10:06 am

A vicious cycle that can hardly be stopped

Ecological landslide that is probably irreversible, said researcher Sergei Kirpotin of Tomsk State University about the melting of permafrost in Siberia. In the last 34 years, the entire western Siberian sub-Arctic region has begun to melt; an alarming development in the face of the global warming threat. Siberias thawing Lake Region sets off a vicious circle of events in the form of methane release and constantly increased warming.

The sub-Arctic area of Western Siberia is now melting for the first time since the last ice age. This frozen peat bog has billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases. As this bog melts, the underlying carbon from the Pleistocene era comes bubbling to the surface, dispersing into the atmosphere as methane.

Methane is known to be 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, making such a process seriously disturbing. Currently this toxic gas is being released at five times faster than predicted.

While the alarm bells are going off, another new angle to the melting permafrost has emerged to the fore. With increasing global temperatures, permafrost melts faster, and larger amounts of methane enter the atmosphere, which further accelerates global warming, triggering a vicious cycle of doom.

To make matters worse, research has now revealed that the amount of carbon trapped in the methane-emitting permafrost of Serbia, which are called yedoma, is a lot more widespread than what was originally envisaged. In fact, it is 100 times more than the amount of carbon released into the air each year by the burning of fossil fuels.

The permafrost that lies under the lakes releases methane; on the other hand, the carbon below dry permafrost is released as carbon dioxide. It is difficult to determine which of the two is more toxicmethane or carbon dioxide. However, methane traps heat more intensely, though it dissipates much faster compared to carbon dioxide.

Likened to a slow-motion time bomb, the situation is only going to get worse, simply because every kilogram of methane heats up the earths atmosphere 23 times more than the same amount of carbon dioxide. The planet needs major amount of cooling because this process is neither expected to stop nor slow down.

Photo shows a building in Alaska ten years after it was built and the permafrost has melted. See also the National Snow & Ice Data Centre www.nsidc.org Other photo shows Melting permafrost peatlands at Noyabrsk, Western Siberia.  Image Michael Succow, International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) see also www.terranature.org

More information: www.tsu.ru 

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This really is a major worry for us all and an unstoppable progression that will put global warming into an even greater spin!


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