Sep
10
2006

Climate forecast looks too hot: The ground is melting too fast

Permafrost polygons: Permafrost is rapidly melting away, releasing methane, and carbon dioxide into the Earth's atmosphere.  Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Permafrost polygons: Permafrost is rapidly melting away, releasing methane, and carbon dioxide into the Earth's atmosphere. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Greenhouse gases that have been trapped in frozen permafrost are being released from the melting soil much faster than was previously thought. The most notable one of these gases is methane, which is being released into the atmosphere at a rate 5 times greater than was previously thought.

Methane is an effective heat trapping agent, it is 23 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. It is practically harmless when it is frozen in permafrost.

Permafrost is ground that has consistently been at a temperature of zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) for two or more years. Permafrost occurs in regions of Arctic climates, such as the tundra of Alaska, northern Canada, and Siberia. Unfortunately, when these frozen climates get too warm, the trapped atmospheric gases are released. Unfortunately, this is now happening too frequently due to global warming.

The release of methane from melting permafrost speeds up the global warming process. The current warming of the earth causes the permafrost to melt, which causes methane and carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, which causes more warming. It’s a horrible cycle and scientists are worried that it will eventually go out of control, setting off a “climate time bomb.”

Scientists are unsure whether or not methane or carbon dioxide is the worst greenhouse gas. While methane traps more heat, it only lingers in the atmosphere for around 10 years. Carbon dioxide traps less heat, but it typically remains in the atmosphere for a century. Neither of these gases is good.

Sounds like quite the problem. What do you think we can do about it?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Stephen's picture
Stephen says:

Global warming is not only releasing carbon from soils, but also appears to be releasing mercury. Recent research conducted in part here at Michigan State University by Dr. Merritt Turetsky in the Plant Biology Department shows that wildfires in northern Canada are becoming more frequent and intense, potentially "fueled" by rising global temperatures. These wildfires are in turn burning more and more peatland soils, releasing long held carbon--and mercury. For a more information, see: http://newsroom.msu.edu/site/indexer/2834/content.htm or http://www.plantbiology.msu.edu/turetsky/index.cfm

Michigan State University Museum Staff

posted on Mon, 09/11/2006 - 2:23pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What is frustrating is that in the UK the media often discuss the increase in climate change and present the problem as being government-led. Whilst this is true that politicians across the globe need to act NOW to slow down climate change there is little blame attached to the people watching news reports at home. No advice is given on how you can help control climate change and as such there is little responsibility for people to help this problem themselves. I find this annoying as we all can help.

posted on Thu, 09/14/2006 - 8:11am
Todd's picture
Todd says:

It always amazes me how little of history people know. It was somewhat less than 1000 year ago that the arctic rarely had ice all year long. Greenland was actually Green!

I certainly agree we should be careful what we put into the air / water / soil but the forces of nature so far outweigh what we have or could do to affect global warming or cooling, it's truly amazing. There will be ice ages and warm periods over the next thousand years, just like the last.

Not to forget that the south pole has 15000 foot thick ice and ever year it is getting THICKER, not thinner.

Many generally open minded people are being incredibly closed minded and duped in the whole man-made global warming scare. I'm not saying it's not getting warmer. I am saying Man isn't the primary cause and there is nothing Man can do to change the normal cycles of the earth.

posted on Thu, 03/01/2007 - 8:57pm
Mark Hunter's picture
Mark Hunter says:

Cover the permafrost with plastic sheeting, pass the trapped methane into large engines which drive enormous refrigeration units that refreeze the permafrost, and also compress the resultant CO2 into "dry-ice" and plough it into the molten permafrost areas to refreeze the ground. My company can help you with the big engines, refrigerators and CO2 compressors, we can help with the plastic sheeting. Email me for details of the equipment, prices and delivery.

posted on Wed, 03/05/2008 - 6:28pm

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