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back to article Permafrost melt to boost atmospheric CO2 faster than thought

A new study has shown that melting Arctic permafrost will "release climate-warming carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere much faster than previously thought," the University of Michigan warns. "In this research, we provide the first evidence that the respiration of previously frozen soil carbon will be amplified by reactions …

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Mushroom

Good to see...

...El Reg is prepared to write bollocks on both side of the argument.

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Childcatcher

Re: Good to see...

I don't see why El Reg think this is news. And there is no report that other bacteria are working in the same environment to generate methane. This is just as newsworthy.

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Facepalm

WE . ARE . ALL . GOING . TO . DIE !!

yep.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: WE . ARE . ALL . GOING . TO . DIE !!

That much we already knew. In fact, it is somewhat comforting (to me, at least) to know that even the richest amongst us cannot buy immortality.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: WE . ARE . ALL . GOING . TO . DIE !!

@mutatedwombat

"That much we already knew. In fact, it is somewhat comforting (to me, at least) to know that even the richest amongst us cannot buy immortality."

Oh, I don't know, Have you looked at Rupert Murdoch lately?

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Coat

Re: WE . ARE . ALL . GOING . TO . DIE !!

Is today a good day to die?

Mine's the one with Old Bushmill's Embalming Fluid in the pocket.

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Anonymous Coward

CO2 has been increasing at a rapid rate over the last 15 without much effect on temperature in any case. Somehow I don't think we've too much to worry about.

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Anonymous Coward

You cant presume anything by such a short term view. And actually that's not true - the temperature has still been rising year by year on average. Plenty more indicators here: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/indicators/

The best scientific forecasts say that primarily due to CO2 we are due a 4 degree C rise by 2100....

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Facepalm

Yes, and I've never met anyone who died from playing Russian Roulette either.

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FAIL

A quick correction

"You cant presume anything by such a short term view. And actually that's not true - the temperature has still been rising year by year on average."

"...the temperature has still been being adjusted upwards year by year on average."

There, fixed that for you.

Actually, it's worth looking at the Japanese Met Agency. They don't fiddle their figures. According to them, the temperature has been at a standstill for 22 years. Still think that's a short-term view?

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yeah because there's no such thing as "breaking point" or "critical mass"

do you know just how huge the permafrost areas are? =siberia (and on top of that, frozen peat bogs contain huge quantities of methane which is 22 times more powerful greenhouse gas than co2, not to mention large carbon pool which represents more carbon than currently exists in all living things and twice as much carbon as exists in the atmosphere)

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Anonymous Coward

Any climate forecast 100 years out is complete bullshit. They can't even get a 5 years forecast within the error bars of their models. It is a lot of drivel.

You may wish to wear a hair shirt and self-flagglate, terrified for the chidwen, but I'm pretty confident that the global temperature will go up a bit and down a bit and be more or less where it is in 100 years and my forecast is at least as good as theirs.

Stick that in your model and fiddle it.

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Anonymous Coward

Oh no! Nobody expected the Spanish Tipping Point!

I know that the permafrost is pretty fucking big. Who cares? As we already know, CO2 is a trailing indicator of increased temperature and CO2 forcing has been grossly exaggerated. We have a lot more to worry about.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A quick correction

Yes.

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Anonymous Coward

Forecasts are not 'complete bullshit' - but are based on a rational scientific approach, and are the best guess we have. And they are pretty much all pointing in one direction - just with varying degrees of 'this planet is fucked if we carry on like this'.

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Anonymous Coward

You didn't notice the rain then?

I believe the current increase in temperature led to a 4% increase in atmospheric water vapour. I think that may possibly have had an effect.

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Anonymous Coward

With the emphasis on guess.

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I see the ACs are out in force today, strange that they all seem to be in denial.

I think you will find that the majority of the Siberian permafrost comes right up to the surface and is only covered by snow and ice - which is slowly getting thinner.

I've flown over Siberia a number of times. On two of those occasions it was in sunlight on totally cloudless days. I can tell you the place is mind numbingly vast. Anything that happens there will have an effect on us.

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Coat

So-

Stop flying over Siberia!

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Happy

Re: So-

Have an upvote for that.

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Holmes

Re: 'this planet is fucked if we carry on like this'

Bollocks.

Planet Earth doesn't give a flying fig if temperatures rise or drop an average of 10 or even 20 degrees Celcius. Earth's biosphere is resistant enough to take the changes in stride. Life will endure, as it can even in the Arctic Circle and in the middle of the harshest deserts.

Humanity, on the other hand, could be quite fucked if we carry on like this, as you say. Obviously, our fragile food base will not survive a 10-degree Celcius average change in one direction or the other, and when our fields are devastated and our livestock decimated, we will shortly follow them into starvation and oblivion.

But please do not extend human hubris to the survival of Life on Earth. There will be innumerable creatures alive to feast on our corpses when we've all ceased to breath, and Planet Earth won't even notice our passing.

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Oh, and concerning forecasts, I do agree that they are based on scientific approach, and they are indeed the best guess we have.

However, it is more and more evident that these forecasts are based on insufficient data and wrong approximations of complex variables, and thus our "best guess" is even more fucked than we are.

Science knows that it does not know all and requires ever more data in order to refine its models and increase the accuracy of its models. Science knows that its models are imperfect, and sometimes uncovers a new element that throws its established thought process into shambles. But Science recovers, takes the hit and comes back, duly noting that its existing model was wrong and a new one need to be established based on the new facts.

It has been said again and again, and it bears repeating just as endlessly as those who think they _know_ the truth : climate science is based on thermodynamics, which is the most complex field of science bar none, and to this day we do not have a model that can reliably predict the behavior of a gaseous mass the size of a country, much less the size of the planet.

The only thing we know for sure is that climate changes, all the time. The last 12,000 years of data we have clearly indicate a global cooling. It is laughable to think that a mere 120 years of recorded data can contradict that tendency, but many people without the slightest grasp of thermodynamics and no more knowledge of climate history seem to think that they are qualified to tell us what is going to happen.

The truth is that we probably will not know for sure before climate historians debate the issue a thousand years from now. By then, they will have a thousand years of data (I'm assuming that the data will not have been fudged by "interested parties" and will be pristine, recorded data only - I may be wrong) and a wee bit of hindsight with which to refine their models.

By then, they might be able to tell us if it will actually rain tomorrow and be right about it (I may be optimistic).

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Pint

Actually, "the best scientific forecasts say "

We should expect something like a 1 degree C rise over the next 100 years. "The best scientific forecasts" for what is termed "climate sensitivity" are based on observed data; the extreme predictions (such as the 4C above) are based on climate models that are known to have major deficiencies (included not knowing whether clouds warm or cool the earth on net!).

We're better off discussing the topic in a pub than here, anyway!

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Except for the part where the temperature has been rising. Even despite so much CO2 dissolving into the ocean that the pH is changing.

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Re: A quick correction

Even on a 5-year-average plot, which is abysmally noisy, you can see the JMA current estimate is above that from 1990 (I should probably point out that that is your "22 years", given the math skills discernible from the context), and that the slope is positive, both by linear fit and by eye. http://ds.data.jma.go.jp/tcc/tcc/products/gwp/temp/ann_wld.html

If you bother to go even further, and read the site in addition to bothering to look at the graphed data, you see that the JMA DOES NOT COVER THE POLES, which are warming faster than the rest of the Earth. http://ds.data.jma.go.jp/tcc/tcc/products/gwp/temp/explanation.html

The text on that page further describes their procedure for generating an overall global estimate from a time sequence of gridded point data, or as your quaint phrase puts it, "fiddling the figures"; so you can see that "Not fiddling the figures" doesn't enter into it. It's not in Japanese, it's in English, if you can read that language.

The JMA kindly sprinkles other clues around their website, should you wish to avail yourself of them. For instance,

"The seasonal mean temperature for the summer from June to August 2010 over Japan was the highest among the historical records held by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) stretching back 113 years to 1898. ... The annual anomaly of the global average surface temperature in 2010 (i.e., the average of

the near-surface air temperature over land and the SST) was 0.34°C above normal (i.e., the

1971 – 2000 average), second only to that of 1998 since 1891."

http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/en/NMHS/ccmr/CCMR2010_low.pdf

Why do you guys always parrot what you read by people who make a living out of telling you things you wish to believe, and never bother to go look at the primary source? You always, ALWAYS end up looking like idiots and suckers.

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"The truth is that we probably will not know for sure before climate historians debate the issue a thousand years from now. By then, they will have a thousand years of data (I'm assuming that the data will not have been fudged by "interested parties" and will be pristine, recorded data only - I may be wrong) and a wee bit of hindsight with which to refine their models."

Fascinating; you manage to argue that the evidence can only be judged long after the fact, and to pre-deny the results of that evidence should it not go the way you want, all at the same time. A denialist tour-de-force.

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Re: 'this planet is fucked if we carry on like this'

Humanity, on the other hand, could be quite fucked if we carry on like this, as you say. Obviously, our fragile food base will not survive a 10-degree Celcius average change in one direction or the other, and when our fields are devastated and our livestock decimated, we will shortly follow them into starvation and oblivion.

I suspect that's a bit overstated. Even with massive damage to our food-production practices, displacement due to rising sea levels, and whatever other catastrophes one might assign to a 10-deg C change in average temperature, it's unlikely that H. sapiens would be wiped out entirely. A huge drop in population, even a few orders of magnitude, would be unlikely to lead directly to extinction. There are too many of us, and we're too widely spread out.

I wouldn't be surprised if humans even managed to survive over a major extinction event like the K-T (which I guess is now called the "K-Pg"). We're highly adaptable and relatively long-lived, with a long period of sexual maturity, so if one generation survived through a decade or so of the worst effects (such as the K-T's theorized reduction in sunlight reaching the ground), they could start breeding again when environmental conditions improved.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 'this planet is fucked if we carry on like this'

Oh well, at least the worse effects will be reserved for some of the most primitive parts of the planet and might clean the gene pool - e.g. Asia, China, Africa, the USA....

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Thumb Up

On a selfish note

I have not chosen to have children as I believe the human race is destined for a severe culling one way or another within the next 20-30 years.

And as a 43 year old I have enjoyed every day on this planet that I can remember.

So if the world does end tomorrow I can say its been a great life!!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: On a selfish note

In other words, you are too ugly to procreate and chose a career in IT instead....

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Please excuse me

while I hide in my bunker and completely fail to panic.

When you've finished beating each other to death I shall come out and enjoy the peace.

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Silver badge

What happened to the ice age?

It seemed to go away, and we are none the worse for wear. Warming has been happening for quite a while, and will likely continue changing the climate for the foreseeable future. Get used to it. Us humans haven't been able to alter the weather and will most likely never be able to to any significant degree.

Of course when Al Gore turns off HIS electric switch, I might listen, but I'm not holding my breath!

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Re: What happened to the ice age?

shorter herby logic: "We didn't cause the ice age therefore we can't affect the climate."

seriously?

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Boffin

Research to boost grant eligibility faster than thought

The research actually shows that melting permafrost may release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere much faster than previously thought. That's science. Insertion of the words "climate-warming", however, diminishes the authority of the paper. That's religion.

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Boffin

Re: Research to boost grant eligibility faster than thought

CO2 in the atmosphere help retain heat. That also is science and known since the 19. century. Therefore there is nothing religious about wondering about the climate effect of increased CO2 emissions. (But one could fault them for stating the bleeding obvious).

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Re: Research to boost grant eligibility faster than thought

Sadly MacroRodent plenty of climate skeptics deny the greenhouse effect exists. Much like creationists will deny the fossil record has any meaning. They don't do it because of the scientific evidence (but in spite of it), but because they REALLY don't want to accept scientific ideas that lead from accepting it.

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Re: scientific ideas that lead from accepting it

Such as Urban Heat Influence ?

Oh, sorry, you were talking about skeptics.

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Re: scientific ideas that lead from accepting it

Yes, Urban Heat Influence would certainly explain why the temperature is rising most rapidly in the Arctic and Antarctic, Siberia, etc. All those giant metropolises there.

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Headmaster

What about plant cover?

When the permafrost is exposed and warmed, does ground cover move in to absorb quantities of CO2.

It seems that this would be a substantial reduction in net emissions, coupled with absorption of UV by the plants reducing the breakdown of th organics.

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Re: What about plant cover?

"When the permafrost is exposed and warmed, does ground cover move in to absorb quantities of CO2?"

Well, yes. And don't forget the moisture release that leads to more reflective cloud cover too.

But there's something strange here. Most permafrost is below ground level, sometimes several meters below. That's what puzzles me, since the study claims that "exposure" to the sun can cause the C02 acceleration. Just how is the sun supposed to get to that deep permafrost layer anyway?

And what happened during previous very warm periods in the past few hundred thousand years? How come we don't have a glaring record of runaway warming then?

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Meh

Re: What about plant cover?

Also was not there a recent story about how small melting permafrost effect turns out to be ?

Hot spots in time also. Medieval Warm period, Roman Warm, Minoan. All warmer than last twenty years. So what would the evidence for large scale melted permafrost be ? Is that why so many frozen mammoths are a bit rotted ?

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Re: What about plant cover?

"Hot spots in time also. Medieval Warm period, Roman Warm, Minoan. All warmer than last twenty years."

This is actually a common myth. There is no robust evidence that any of those warm periods were warmer than today. The best that can be said is that recent warming has brought temperatures today to be roughly equivalent to those periods. But this is very rough, we may be slightly warmer or cooler than those periods.

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Re: What about plant cover?

"And what happened during previous very warm periods in the past few hundred thousand years? How come we don't have a glaring record of runaway warming then?"

That's why we don't have to worry about this unless we breach records of the past few hundred thousand years.

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Re: What about plant cover?

"Just how is the sun supposed to get to that deep permafrost layer anyway?" It says in the article, google thermokarst failure.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What about plant cover?

@Big John: "And don't forget the moisture release that leads to more reflective cloud cover too."

Clouds are vastly more complicated than that. Also remember that if they are reflecting the sun's energy back into space, they're also reflecting the energy below them back to earth. But, like I say, this is a phd level subject and shouldn't be summed up by "clouds reflect".

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Re: What about plant cover?

Big J - you ask an excellent question. If you read the actual paper, it turns out they didn't actually look at carbon in regions of melted permafrost -- they only looked at *dissolved organic carbon = DOC* in the water from rivers or lakes touching now-thawed permafrost.

I don't know what percent of the organic carbon in the soil will dissolve into water flowing over the area, but that's OK, since the scientists who wrote the paper seem not to, either.

They also didn't look at the whole ecosystem effect -- that is, whether warmer temps and the fertilizer also released into the water from the thawed permafrost lead to new growth of CO2 sequestering plants.

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Mushroom

Re: What about plant cover?

If the permafront surface melts then eventually it all will, as it gets warmer the deeper you go, not colder...

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What Lewis didnt find the perverse mis-read?

Another reason to sack Lewis, he can't even be relied on to write sceptic spin on every story

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Last I heard it didn't matter.

Get on with it then, the sooner it starts the sooner I can enjoy a warmer clime.

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