Breaking Up : Bad News from Gas and Ice

It’s proving to be a bad year for Greenhouse Gas control and Polar Ice integrity.

Despite the drop in production of the Developed Economies, due to the downturn/recession, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere carried on rising :-

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/20090421_carbon.html

“Greenhouse Gases Continue to Climb Despite Economic Slump : Carbon Dioxide, Methane Increased in 2008 : April 21, 2009 : Two of the most important climate change gases increased last year, according to a preliminary analysis for NOAA’s annual greenhouse gas index, which tracks data from 60 sites around the world. Researchers measured an additional 16.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) — a byproduct of fossil fuel burning — and 12.2 million tons of methane in the atmosphere at the end of December 2008. This increase is despite the global economic downturn, with its decrease in a wide range of activities that depend on fossil fuel use.”

“Methane levels rose in 2008 for the second consecutive year after a 10-year lull. Atmospheric concentrations increased by 4.4 molecules for every billion molecules of air, bringing the total global concentration up to 1788 parts per billion, according to NOAA data. Pound for pound, methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but there’s far less of it in the atmosphere and is measured in parts per billion. When related climate affects are taken into account, methane’s overall climate impact is nearly half that of carbon dioxide.”

“Carbon dioxide growth has increased by more than two percent each year since preindustrial times, doubling every 31 years, according to a study published in the journal Atmospheric Environment last month by David Hofmann, James Butler, and Tans. All are researchers at ESRL. Even during the 1970s, when fossil fuel emissions dropped sharply in response to the oil crises, emissions remained high enough that CO2 levels continued to climb exponentially, similar to the way compound interest builds.”

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/images/co2chart.jpg

The reasons why Carbon Dioxide continue to rise despite a drop in industrial prodution and transport in 2008 include a time lag effect from the collection of absorption and emissions processes in the general biosphere.

The rise in Carbon Dioxide is not necessarily a mark of loss of control – the “runaway Global Warming” scenario – where we can no longer stop the process of dangerous Climate Change even if we curtail all emissions activities.

Theoretical models of “positive feedback” point to the possibility of a “tipping point” where Carbon Dioxide emissions would continue to rise to life extinction levels, regardless of human efforts to draw down Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere through a variety of technologies and agricultural changes.

It’s bad that Carbon Dioxide is still climbing, but the truly worrying Greenhouse Gas is Methane.

http://climateprogress.org/2009/04/25/noaa-methane-levels-2008

“That meant a 2.1 ppm rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 386ppm, easily the highest levels homo “sapiens” sapiens have ever seen, which is not news, but should still worry everyone since it continues the nearly 40% higher rate of growth of concentrations this decade compared to last. It also meant a 4.4 part per billion rise in methane concentrations, which definitely is news — and far more worrisome. Sharply rising methane levels have been implicated in most every major rapid warming spell in Earth’s history, as Nature explained in a report last month. The report, on what
they called “a ticking time bomb,” warned the “vast stores of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — could be released from frozen deposits on land and under the ocean.”

http://www.nature.com/climate/2009/0904/full/climate.2009.24.html

Much of this currently frozen methane is going to be where it is currently frozen, that is, the polar regions. In order for these regions to start giving off large quantities of methane, they would need to become less cold.

It has been predicted by Global Warming modelling that the polar regions would heat up faster than the Equatorial and mid-latitudes, and there is now much evidence of this.

The equally-tied hottest overall year was 2007 :-

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/images/content/208484main_surface_temp_anom.jpg

Here’s 2005 :-

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2005/2005cal_fig1.gif

And there seems to be indications that all this extra localised warming is having measurable impacts : both the Arctic and the Antarctic are becoming destabilised.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/apr/28/climate-change-poles

“Climate change hitting entire Arctic ecosystem, says report : Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme study tells of profound changes to sea ice and permafrost, among others : John Vidal in Tromso, Norway : Tuesday 28 April 2009 : Extensive climate change is now affecting every form of life in the Arctic, according to a major new assessment by international polar scientists. In the past four years, air temperatures have increased, sea ice has declined sharply, surface waters in the Arctic ocean have warmed and permafrost is in some areas rapidly thawing. In addition, says the report released today at a Norwegian government seminar, plants and trees are growing more vigorously, snow cover is decreasing 1-2% a year and glaciers are shrinking. Scientists from Norway, Canada, Russia and the US contributed to the Arctic monitoring and assessment programme (Amap) study, which says new factors such as “black carbon” – soot – ozone and methane may now be contributing to global and arctic warming as much as carbon dioxide.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8021778.stm

“Five hundred metres above the camp is the Zeppelin Mountain Station that measures changes in atmospheric gases and pollutants. And the only way you can get to it is via a 20-year-old cable car which – we are assured – is “quite safe, if a little wobbly”. The day before our visit, the site measured CO2 levels of 394 parts per million. Johan Strom, the professor with Stockholm University’s department of applied environmental science who runs the monitoring station, said it was the highest CO2 concentration yet recorded in the Arctic. “You have to go back millions of years to see the same values of CO2 that we are measuring today. “Stopping emissions would stop the CO2 levels increasing, but we would still have to live with all this excess CO2 for thousands of years, because CO2 is a long-lived greenhouse gas,” he said.”

The historical record suggests that Carbon Dioxide and methane rises are often synchronous, suggesting that when frozen biological stores melt down, Carbon Dioxide that is locked in soils and uncomposted material is emitted alongside the methane from the decomposed material.

A sharp rise in local Carbon Dioxide emissions to air indicates that there could well be a sharp rise in methane emissions too. This is a warning we should not ignore.

And to cap it all, the ice cap is not looking cool. Although the extent of Arctic Sea Ice has not been at a record low, it’s been thinner than hoped :-

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/arctic_thinice.html

“Satellites Show Arctic Literally on Thin Ice : 04.06.09 : The latest Arctic sea ice data from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that the decade-long trend of shrinking sea ice cover is continuing. New evidence from satellite observations also shows that the ice cap is thinning as well.”

So, it’s bad in the Arctic, but in Antarctica, things are going into meltdown :-

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/new-yorksized-ice-shelf-collapses-off-antarctica-1675400.html

“New York-sized ice shelf collapses off Antarctica : Reuters : Tuesday, 28 April 2009 : An area of an Antarctic ice shelf almost the size of New York City has broken into icebergs this month after the collapse of an ice bridge widely blamed on global warming, a scientist said today. “The northern ice front of the Wilkins Ice Shelf has become unstable and the first icebergs have been released,” Angelika Humbert, glaciologist at the University of Muenster in Germany, said of European Space Agency satellite images of the shelf. Humbert told Reuters about 700 sq km of ice – bigger than Singapore or Bahrain and almost the size of New York – has broken off the Wilkins this month and shattered into a mass of icebergs. She said 370 sq kms of ice had cracked up in recent days from the Shelf, the latest of about 10 shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula to retreat in a trend linked by the UN Climate Panel to global warming. The new icebergs added to 330 sq kms of ice that broke up earlier this month with the shattering of an ice bridge apparently pinning the Wilkins in place between Charcot island and the Antarctic Peninsula. Nine other shelves – ice floating on the sea and linked to the coast – have receded or collapsed around the Antarctic peninsula in the past 50 years, often abruptly like the Larsen A in 1995 or the Larsen B in 2002. The trend is widely blamed on climate change caused by heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels, according to David Vaughan, a British Antarctic Survey scientist who landed by plane on the Wilkins ice bridge with two Reuters reporters in January.”

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