The Top of The World is Melting
The Arctic permafrost is melting, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases. The world now has to rethink how it tackles climate change.
CHARLES Miller rides plumes of greenhouse gases ”like a roller-coaster” at the top of the world. The NASA scientist is one of a handful of researchers taking part in a remarkable experiment that few people have heard of, but which could prove to be one of the most crucial pieces of scientific field work so far this century.
For now, the findings are under wraps. ”But I think ‘tantalising’ is probably the right word,” he says.
Miller’s mission has fresh urgency in light of a new report that was due to be released on Tuesday night at the UN climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar.
The Arctic permafrost is thawing. Ancient forests locked under ice tens of thousands of years ago are beginning to melt and rot, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases, according to the report, Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost.
While countries the size of Australia tally up their greenhouse emissions in hundreds of millions of tonnes, the Arctic’s stores are measured in the tens of billions of tonnes.
Human emissions now appear to have warmed the Arctic enough to unlock this vast carbon bank, with stark implications for international efforts to hold global warming to a safe level.
This is a ”tipping point” – a scenario predicted by scientists where the climate becomes trapped in a vicious cycle of warming. That process now seems to be starting.
”The permafrost carbon feedback is irreversible on human time scales,” the report says. ”Overall, these observations indicate that large-scale thawing of permafrost may already have started.”
It estimates the greenhouse gases leaking from the Arctic will eventually add more to emissions than last year’s combined carbon output of the US and Europe – which means current global plans to hold climate change to an average 2-degree temperature rise this century are now likely to be wrong.
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