World on the verge of a tipping point, or again on the permafrost

The permafrost is melting faster than expected, and where it will lead, no one knows, because the carbon stored there can come in the form of carbon dioxide, and may in the form of methane – a potent greenhouse gas.

Permafrost, which covers almost a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere and stores huge amounts of carbon, can melt faster than we think.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report which stated that the forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the growth temperature to 2014 may not be true, because the IPCC did not take into account the possible melting of the permafrost. "The record shows that large-scale melting has already begun," – the authors warn, calling for a more thorough study of the issue and plans to reduce the damage caused by the phenomenon.

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Permafrost: dark blue marked area with a 90-percent coverage. (Image Climate Safety.)

But NASA researchers taking samples of air over the Arctic by airplane, flying at an altitude of 150 m, it is believed that even the UNEP does not understand the seriousness of the situation. Analysis is not yet complete (its results will be presented next week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco), but preliminary results suggest that the level of greenhouse gas emissions in some areas of the Arctic is much higher than forecasts of climate models, emphasizes lead author Charles Miller from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, project manager CARVE.

The first results also show that out of the permafrost more methane (a greenhouse gas, it is more powerful than carbon dioxide at 25 times the rate of 100 years in the atmosphere) than predicted. We may assume that climate models are not able to give an accurate idea of how much methane released during melting of the permafrost.

It should be noted that previous research programs based on data collected in the two-kilometer altitude and worn, of course, regional. And in this case, the scientists could even pinpoint leakage mikrotopograficheskom level.

Another advantage of flying at low altitude is that they can warn of things to come – for example, the possibility of a major release of methane. Fortunately, the hint of a disaster yet.

In addition, this time the measurements were much longer. Usually the plane up in the air four or five times in six weeks, and now he was flying for two weeks a month from April to October. This schedule was maintained for the next four years.

Still hanging in the air question, what part of 1 700 billion tonnes of carbon locked up in the frozen organic material will be featured in the form of methane, and which – in the form of carbon dioxide. Mr. Miller believes that if there will be warmer and drier, it will come to the fore microorganisms that produce carbon dioxide. If there comes a warm and humid climate, wait methane.

Prepared according to NewScientist.

Category: Climate

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