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War against sudden global warming may already be lost

If Siberia's methane is being released suddenly into the atmosphere, and even the basics of climate change science is true, it could mean another 8 million metric tons of methane going into the atmosphere. It could be enough to tip the balance.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

The models for global warming Al Gore described in An Inconvenient Truth were based on known actions by man, and they were pretty frightening.

(Picture from Science, a publication of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.)

But after his PowerPoint came out we learned that melting Arctic ice may accelerate the process because a blue ocean will absorb solar radiation while white ice might reflect it.

And now another Arctic menace has scientists doing the danger dance -- methane escaping from under the Arctic off Siberia.

Americans love methane. Houston oil companies go to great lengths to pump pockets of it from deep underground. Methane from cows also speeds global warming, leading skeptics to say there has been no hope for years. You may be tossing some methane into the atmosphere right now -- say excuse me.

Now the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a vast stretch of ocean that was land during the last ice age, has begun to leak methane.

The plant matter left there had only become peat -- the same stuff some Scotch makers still burn to add flavor to the mash. When that sea floor was permafrost the gas in that peat was trapped. Now, just with the global warming we've had so far, it's bubbling toward the surface.

Since the sea floor there is shallow, very little of the resulting methane is transformed into carbon dioxide, which is actually less dangerous for the environment than methane, before it reaches the atmosphere.

This is bad. If Siberia's methane is being released suddenly into the atmosphere, and even the basics of climate change science is true, it could mean another 8 million metric tons of methane going into the atmosphere this year, and more next year.

That's a fraction of the 440 metric tons total from all the grass, cows, fires, and unlit farts around the world each year. But it could be enough to tip the balance.

Natalie Shakhova from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks has been studying this phenomenon since 2003, and her team's report was published in the March 4 issue of Science.

This last winter may be the last cold one for a very long time. Temperatures in Greenland and Alaska, close to the East Siberian Sea, were much warmer than normal this winter, even while normally temperate zones were frigid. This is why I wrote that the January cold proved, rather than disproved, global warming theory.

Most of you didn't believe me when I wrote that. But now we may know why it's true.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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