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
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
 

Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!

It’s the season to be jolly – so we’ve rounded up some new Joburg hot spots!

 
 

I love summer.24

The craziest deaths of 2014
How to make this a sensual, sexy summer!
This is what South Africans Googled in 2014!
This hilarious song is your new holiday anthem

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy 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

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There is so much going on around you and inside your head. You may want to take your ideas to the next level. Romance may be...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.