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Scientists Warn We May Be on Track for 'Hothouse Earth'

In two recent studies, scientists have looked into the future and into the past to see what might happen to the global climate if we fail to curb greenhouse gas emissions in time. The results are frightening.

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The Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve in Hillsboro, Oregon. born1945 / CC BY 2.0

Permafrost and Wetland Emissions Could Cut 1.5°C Carbon Budget ‘by Five Years’

By Robert McSweeney

Emissions of CO2 and methane from wetlands and thawing permafrost as the climate warms could cut the "carbon budget" for the Paris agreement temperature limits by around five years, a new study says.

These natural processes are "positive feedbacks"—so called because they release more greenhouse gases as global temperatures rise, thus reinforcing the warming. They have previously not been represented in carbon budget estimates as they are not included in most climate models, the researchers say.

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The NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Barrow, AK, with the Arctic Ocean in the background. NOAA

Oil Companies in Alaska Refreeze Melting Permafrost to Keep Drilling

A new industry is taking off in Alaska, as innovators help oil companies compensate for the irony that climate change is making oil exploration harder on the increasingly less frozen permafrost, NPR reported Monday.

Ed Yarmak, for example, heads a company called Arctic Foundations that makes metal tubes filled with a refrigerant called thermosyphons. These are then partly buried in permafrost, where they pull heat from the ground.

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Collapsed permafrost block of coastal tundra on Alaska's Arctic coast. U.S. Geological Survey / Wikimedia Commons

Melting Permafrost Emits More Methane Than Scientists Thought

By Alex Kirby

Methane emissions are the source of the greenhouse gas which, after carbon dioxide, probably causes climatologists more sleepless nights than any of the other gases. And now it appears they have quite a lot more to bother them than they had realized.

Methane is reckoned to be at least 30 times more powerful than CO2 at warming the earth, with some estimates putting its potency much higher still. The good news, research has suggested, is that there is far less methane than CO2 in the atmosphere to worry about.

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Thawing permafrost in Noatak National Preserve, Alaska. NPS Climate Change Response

Methane Meltdown: Thawing Permafrost Could Release More Potent Greenhouse Gas Than Expected

A study published in Nature Climate Change Monday shows that thawing permafrost in the Arctic might produce more methane than previously thought. Methane has 28 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide, so the findings indicate scientists might have to reassess how thawing permafrost will contribute to climate change.

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Mackenzie River in Canada's Northwest Territories. NASA Earth Observatory

Thawing Permafrost Poses Even Greater Climate Threat Than Previously Thought, Study Finds

Thawing tundra may be allowing long-buried pockets of methane to be released into the atmosphere, new research suggests. A study surveying the Mackenzie Delta in Canada, published Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports, suggested that these methane "seeps" on the tundra may be more problematic than previously thought.

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Tarmo Virtanen, University of Helsinki

Not So Funny: The Arctic is Leaking Laughing Gas

Nitrous oxide, the main ingredient in laughing gas, does more than just act as a nerve agent; it is a powerful greenhouse gas. It is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and scientists believe could be leaking from ancient reservoirs beneath Arctic permafrost.

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Staffan Widstrand

Melting Ice Could Unleash Deadly Bacteria Lain Dormant for Millennia

Deep in the soils of permafrost lurks unknown and archaic bacteria that could potentially spawn viruses and disease that the human race has never been exposed to, at least, not in the recent history of penicillin. But with climate change rapidly heating up the poles, the permafrost is melting away, and we may have to face whatever is beneath the ice.

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Collapsed permafrost block of coastal tundra on Alaska's Arctic Coast. USGS

CO2 Emissions Soar as Alaska Heats Up

The Alaskan tundra is releasing an increasingly large amount of CO2 due to a warmer climate, new research shows.

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