Chilling data from the Arctic

Less ice, more water. More swimming, fewer polar bears.
Written by Harry Fuller, Contributor

Less ice, more water. More swimming, fewer polar bears. That seems to be the conclusion from some recent Arctic data. Oh, and the ARctic is belching methane, a greenhouse gas far worse at warming the atmosphere than mere CO2.

The loss of Arctic ice, the lack of large ice floes where polar bears can rest or hunt, the expectation that the Arctic Ocean will get to iceless summers this century. None of this is new, but it continues to be news as the process accelerates.

Eventually the polar bear may go the way of the California Condor, a species entirely dependent on human largesse for survival. Like poodles and Wall Street investment bankers. Sadly the polar bears have no voice in their own fate.

Meanwhile, the methane situation threatens not just a single species, but anybody prone to heat rash or thirst. As the permafrost melts in the Arctic you only only get those picturesque images of villages where the buildings start to go cattywompus and sink into the mud. You also get methane belches. Large amounts of methane are produced deep in the soil as organic material slowly rots away in near freezing conditions. As the permafrost ice cap above those buried soils melts and softens, the methane rises to the surface and thence into the atmosphere. Here's a fun little encounter with one methane plume rising from a typical Arctic lake.

Now there are methane digesters that can be built. Not sure they would do well in the muck of melted permafrost. But they bring their own unintended consequences, which have been felt in California. There methane digesters are used to capture the methane from huge cattle operations. A side effect: the digesters create their own nitrogen/oxygen compounds which are a smog component. Here's a great cleantech opportunity. Burning or converting methane without any negative by-products.

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