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

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

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

 
 

Numsa prepares for life after Cosatu

Numsa has not only reiterated its call for President Jacob Zuma to resign but it is also preparing for life outside of Cosatu, a report states.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

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

Nokia E7

Your mobile office Real-time emails with Mail for Exchange. Easy access to...

From R3499.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be good at organising events but they do take their toll on your energy levels. You may need some time out today just to...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.