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Faster Global Warming From Permafrost Melt 119

Posted by Hemos
from the not-just-siberia dept.
jc42 writes, "A recent study published in Nature documents the accelerating release of methane from melting permafrost. Methane is a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so this may signal more rapid warming in the near future. If you don't subscribe to Nature, the Guardian has a good summary of the piece." It's not just Siberian permafrost. One of the major concerns is bogs — they account for a relatively small percent of total surface space, but have a large amount of carbon locked up. No one is sure if the greenhouse effect will cause them to lock up more, or to release more carbon.
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Faster Global Warming From Permafrost Melt

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  • It's your fault (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @10:15AM (#16080664)
    You know that, when the ozon is destroyed and the fish die, they will say "It was everybody's fault. We didn't do anything to stop it". They won't say it was George Bush's fault, or McDonalds fault.

    And they will be right. The only way to stop it is to slow down the circulation of money.
  • by Silver Sloth (770927) on Monday September 11, 2006 @10:15AM (#16080666)

    The scientists release the facts - that the permafrost is changing. Then the people who pay the scientists say 'Why should we care, why should we pay for your expensive field trips?' and the scientist replies 'Because we need to know, we need to find out what's going on, so we might have a chance of surviving (and me keeping my job)'

    So, to sum up, scienists have released some facts - there are significant changes in the permafrost which are yet another significant pointer to global climate change. Furthermore, the released the fact that we don't know what significance this change will take.

  • by phayes (202222) on Monday September 11, 2006 @10:32AM (#16080770) Homepage
    The title to the story is "Faster Global Warming from Permafrost Melt" yet TFA & even the extract say
    "No one is sure if the greenhouse effect will cause them to lock up more, or to release more carbon"...

    Sensationalist titles like this are why I still have my doubts about global warning. Every time any climate data is released, the global warning crowd comes out with another sensationalist global warning blurb.
  • Re:A solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phayes (202222) on Monday September 11, 2006 @10:36AM (#16080802) Homepage
    Those "rising columns of hot air" barely reach the stratosphere even in major events like a major volcano eruption. Your fears of running out of atmosphere through global warming are unfounded. Look at Venus: Hot as hell (literally) yet it still has an atmosphere denser than Earth's.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Monday September 11, 2006 @10:43AM (#16080859) Homepage Journal
    Here we've got a positive feedback loop. The warmer it gets, the more CH4 is presumably released from permafrost.

    There are also negative feedback loops. The warmer it gets, the more water evaporates, the more clouds there are, and clouds reflect sunlight. On the other hand, clouds can also hold heat in, and water vapor is a greenhouse gas.

    If you want to make forecasts you have to put numbers on all those effects, and they have to be fairly precise numbers or you get hit by the uncertainties of (approximate large number minus other approximate large number). You've also got to account for discontinuities, things that only start happening at threshold temperatures (permafrost melting) or that stop happening after some amount of C)2 gets absorbed (oceanic absorption).

    That's where all your tax money is going. It's paying to send highly trained people to uncomfortable places to get hard facts.

    That also tells you that it's taken a huge amount of field data to get general agreement on what our CO2 output does to climate.
  • by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Monday September 11, 2006 @10:59AM (#16080980)
    Furthermore, the released the fact that we don't know what significance this change will take.

    Fact is a pretty strong word in science. Instead you'll generally see "consensus" or "strongly suggests" or "the theory supports". Facts tend to be only used when discussing measurable data, and even then they discuss margin of errors and possible problems in taking the readings.

    If I jump off a building, a group of scientists would cheerfully predict when I'll hit the bottom and with how much force, though they'll admit that they can't account for confounding variables like wind speed and the possibility that Superman might wander by. There might be one chap who scoffs at the others and says it's worthless making a prediction as we can't tell if I has a parachute tucked away somewhere.

    I see global climate change the same way. It's a complex issue and there's lots of details that still need to be sorted out. Still, if you ask a bunch of scientists their opinion on it, the consensus is that it's real, man-made, and will likely hit the bottom with a loud splat sooner rather than later.
  • by kestasjk (933987) on Monday September 11, 2006 @11:06AM (#16081041) Homepage
    > Make energy expensive.

    1) Make energy expensive
    2) Piss off businesses and consumers who want luxury and economic security now
    3) Along comes a guy who promises to lower energy prices
    4) Get voted out
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Monday September 11, 2006 @11:36AM (#16081335) Homepage
    Ignore the headlines. Read the articles and look at the data. Once you do, you'll start writing alarmed headlines as well.
  • by Scrameustache (459504) * on Monday September 11, 2006 @11:48AM (#16081421) Homepage Journal
    The Guardian says "This means that a kilogram of methane warms the planet's atmosphere 23 times as much as the same amount of carbon dioxide."

    A gas can not warm the planet.


    So neither can a blanket warm you, then.
    Any other sophistries you'd like to share?
  • by Pentagram (40862) on Monday September 11, 2006 @12:15PM (#16081671) Homepage
    The title to the story is "Faster Global Warming from Permafrost Melt" yet TFA & even the extract say
    "No one is sure if the greenhouse effect will cause them to lock up more, or to release more carbon"...


    Um no. First of all, you obviously haven't read TFA because it doesn't say this. It was apparently written by the /. submitter, who is in any case referring to uncertainty over bogs, not the melting permafrost.

    Sensationalist titles like this are why I still have my doubts about global warning.

    You decide whether or not to accept scientific studies based on Slashdot headlines? We're in more trouble than I thought.
  • Re:A solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bwcbwc (601780) on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:40PM (#16083042)
    It's not the rising columns of air, but increased kinetic energy and momentum in general. Earth's atmosphere is constantly losing particles that escape into space. This is compensated from particles that fall into our gravity well. It's more an effect of brownian motion and individual molecules achieving escape velocity than air currents, though.

    There are several factors involved in determining the rate of exchange. Increased temperature implies increased average energy level in the atmosphere and increased volume (the atmosphere extends further away from the surface). Carbon dioxide is heavier than both H2O and O2, so increased levels of CO2 will tend to push those molecules away from the surface and into the upper atmosphere. Also a collision between a CO2 molecule and a water or oxygen molecule will impart greater velocity to the lighter molecule. Conversely, methane is lighter than O2 or H2O, so it will rise with/above them.

    In general, though, I expect global warming to cause a measurable increase in the level of atmosphere lost to space (at least anything lighter than CO2). Given the amount of water in the environment, and the ability of plants to lock up CO2, I don't expect it to turn earth into a venusian hell-hole, let alone lose the entire atmosphere. We're talking millions of years, even if we humans manage to release all of the fossil CO2 from the pre-Cambrian era and kill off all vertebrate animal life in the process.

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