Friday, March 05, 2010

It's the methane, stupid

Uh-oh: "A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas." More:

The research results, published in the March 5 edition of the journal Science, show that the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.


Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is released from previously frozen soils in two ways. When the organic material -- which contains carbon -- stored in permafrost thaws, it begins to decompose and, under oxygen-free conditions, gradually release methane. Methane can also be stored in the seabed as methane gas or methane hydrates and then released as subsea permafrost thaws.

Apparently, "average methane concentrations in the Arctic average about 1.85 parts per million, the highest in 400,000 years."

And why is this happening? Thawing. And what is causing the thawing? Global warming.

It's a vicious cycle. As we release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we warm up the earth, causing even more greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere, which in turn warm up the earth even more.

Given how slow we have been to respond to global warming, there may be no way out of the cycle. And that means, ultimately, acknowledging that climate predictions are necessarily inexact, the coming of environmental Armageddon.

Too dramatic? Just wait.

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