Melting permafrost causes concern

2012-11-27 20:58

((Karim Jaafar, AFP))

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Doha – Melting permafrost is emerging as a new factor in climate change, allowing long-frozen carbon to be released into the air and accelerating global warming, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said.

In a report issued as the annual round of UN climate talks entered their second day, UNEP said scientists had already pronounced thawing permafrost to be a worry but the issue remained off politicians' radar.

"Its potential impact on the climate, ecosystems and infrastructure has been neglected for too long," warned UNEP excutive director Achim Steiner.

"This report seeks to communicate to climate-treaty negotiators, policy makers and the general public the implications of continuing to ignore the challenges of warming permafrost."

Permafrost covers huge tracts of northern Siberia and Canada, as well as parts of China and the United States.

It comprises an "active" layer at the surface, up to two metres, which melts in summer and refreezes in winter, and beneath it is permanently frozen soil.

If warming penetrates this under-layer, it could release vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane from vegetation deposited thousands of years ago but which until now have been safely locked up in ice.

These greenhouse gases would enter the atmosphere, adding to warming, which then accelerates the permafrost melt, a vicious circle known in scientific parlance as a feedback.

The UNEP report said that the feedback scenario, first sketched by ice scientists about a decade ago, is becoming a real source of concern.

Arctic and alpine air temperatures are expected to increase at roughly twice the global rate.

So an average worldwide temperature increase of three degrees Celsius would translate into a massive 6°C rise in the far north, resulting in loss of anywhere between 30 to 85% of near-surface permafrost.

Warming permafrost could emit 43-135 gigatons of CO2-equivalent by 2100 and 246-415 gigatons by 2200, a warming that would persist for centuries, the study said.

By way of comparison, about 375 billion tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere since the start of the industrial age in about 1750, mainly through the burning of coal, oil and gas, according to the World Meteorlogical Organisation (WMO).

"The release of carbon dioxide and methane from warming permafrost is irreversible," said the report's head author, Kevin Schaefer, from the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Centre.

"Once the organic matter thaws and decays away, there is no way to put it back into the permafrost."

Recommendations

The report suggests the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draw up a special report on how permafrost emissions could affect climate policy.

It also recommends creating "national permafrost monitoring committees" that would regularly scrutinise permafrost levels, expand coverage and standardise their measurements.

Politicians eyeing a worldwide treaty on climate "need to account for these emissions or we risk overshooting the 2°C maximum warming target," said Schaefer at a press conference.

The 12-day talks in Qatar seek to stride towards a new global pact on climate that would be sealed in 2015 and take effect in 2020.

But they take place against a backdrop of surging carbon emissions as emerging giants, led by China, burn coal to power their rise out of poverty and the switch to cleaner fuels in rich countries slows because of budget constraints.

Read more on:    un  |  wmo  |  qatar  |  china  |  climate change
NEXT ON NEWS24X

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
5 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Tuesday Muizenberg - 10:59 AM
    Road name: Main Road Both Ways
    ROADWORKS with stop/go controls at Atlantic Road - expect peak time delays (until July 2015)
  • Tuesday Kuils River - 08:34 AM
    Road name: Polkadraai Road Eastbound
    ROADWORKS between the R102 Van Riebeeck Road and the R310 Baden Powell Drive exit - DELAYS
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

30% off academic books

Score a mind blowing 30% off academic books! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

40% off appliances & homeware

Get mind blowing deals on top selling appliances and homeware. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Lenovo A1000 tablet now R999!

Get the Lenovo A1000 tablet for only R999! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on electronics!

Save up to 35% on electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

New gobii smartphones from R999!

Front and rear camera's, dual SIM capability and 200MB of FREE Cell C data every month for 12 months, are just some of the many features on these smartphones. Get yours now! Shop here.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Torch 9810

The BlackBerry Torch 9810 gives you the powerful combination of...

From R2790.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

It may be hard to avoid an argument or heated conversation today. Someone may be stirring things up and testing your patience. ...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.