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By Andy Rowell
In the fallout from the Durban, South Africa climate talks, one of the things I have heard people debating about is what keeping global warming to 2 degrees means, rather than letting warming increase to 3 degrees or even 4 degrees.
One of the answers was that if warming goes above 2 degrees, the chances of a runaway greenhouse effect happening increases. And one way this happens is through the kicking in of positive feedback mechanisms.
And one of these regards the potent greenhouse gas methane (which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide), and what lies beneath the Arctic permafrost, or frozen soil.
For years scientists have warned of a ticking “methane timebomb” in the Arctic. At the end of last month, in an article published in the journal Nature, a survey of 41 international experts led by University of Florida ecologist Edward Schuur revealed that models created to estimate global warming may have underestimated the magnitude of carbon emissions from permafrost over the next century.
The scientists argued that the effect on climate change is projected to be 2.5 times greater than models currently predicted, partly because of the amount of methane released in permafrost.
“We’re talking about carbon that’s in soil, just like in your garden where there’s compost containing carbon slowly breaking down, but in permafrost it’s almost stopped because the soil is frozen,” Schuur said at the time. “As that soil warms up, that carbon can be broken down by bacteria and fungi, and as they metabolize, they are releasing carbon and methane, greenhouse gases that cause warmer temperatures.”
The scientists estimated that the permafrost is distributed across 11.7 million square miles of land—an amount that is more than three times larger than previously estimated.
But what about methane trapped under the oceans? A Dec. 13 article in the Independent makes alarming reading. The paper reports that “Dramatic and unprecedented plumes” of methane have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.
The scale and volume of the methane release has “astonished” the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.
Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the Independent that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.
“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr. Semiletov said. “I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.”
Dr. Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
What his findings show is that the need for a comprehensive radical deal on climate change is ever more urgent.
Someone should tell the Canadians that.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Emily Deanne
Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.
By Lorraine Chow
Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.
States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
By Kristin Ohlson
From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.
Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.
By Hans Nicholas Jong
Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.
It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."