Friday, September 04, 2009

Arctic Climate Feedbacks: Global Implications

Sep 2: A new peer reviewed study -- Arctic Climate Feedbacks: Global Implications -- released by the World Wildlife Fund at the World Climate Conference 3 in Geneva, finds that Arctic sea ice is melting at a faster than expected pace, with major implications well beyond the region. These include changes in temperature and precipitation patterns in North America and Europe that will affect agriculture, forestry and water supplies. The report indicates that warming in the Arctic will likely have far-reaching impacts throughout the world, resulting in a sharp increase in harmful greenhouse gases and significant shifts in global weather patterns that could disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.

Dr. Martin Sommerkorn said, “This is not about the Arctic, it’s what the Arctic means to the rest of the world and this study paints a truly sobering picture of the future if it continues to warm and melt. Warming in the Arctic will have negative consequences not just for polar bears, but for people across America and throughout the world. Simply put, if we do not keep the Arctic cold enough, people across the world will suffer the effects.”

With sea ice expected to recede to near-record levels later this month, the study found growing evidence that some of the anticipated impacts on the atmosphere have already emerged. The report also predicts that the negative effects of Arctic warming could make global climate change more severe than indicated by other recent projections, including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 assessment. Keya Chatterjee, acting director of climate change with WWF-US said, “The planet’s alarm system is blaring loudly and we need to wake up and take action. We need to pass legislation in the U.S. and secure a global treaty to cut our emissions now and prepare for the rapidly emerging consequences of climate change.”

The Arctic’s frozen soils and wetlands store twice as much carbon as is held in the atmosphere, as warming trends continue, soils will increasingly thaw and release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere as, at a significantly faster pace than previously predicted. Levels of atmospheric methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, have been increasing rapidly for the past two years, and many believe the increase is driven by the thawing Arctic. The report also concludes that sea-levels will very likely rise by more than one meter by 2100 -- more than twice the amount given in the IPCC’s 2007 assessment. The associated flooding of coastal regions will affect more than a quarter of the world’s population.

In a related matter on August 24, NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, CO announced it had teamed up with the U.S. Coast Guard at Kodiak Island, in an air-sampling project to search for natural and man-made sources of methane and carbon dioxide in the air above the Alaska tundra. North of the Brooks Range, the tundra is not yet melting, but south of the range, partial melting is already occurring.

NOAA said, "Billions of tons of carbon are buried in the frozen Arctic tundra, now heating up because of human-caused climate change. In the future, will the warming tundra dry out, exhaling large amounts of heat-holding carbon dioxide? Or will melting ice form pools and lakes, allowing microbes to feast on buried organic matter, burping up huge amounts of methane? Only the data will tell. . . It’s important to locate natural sources and measure how much methane and carbon dioxide are being released now so we can watch for signs of increasing emissions." Methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, though its lifetime in the atmosphere is significantly shorter.

Access a release from WWF with links to additional information (
click here). Access links to the complete 100-page report, executive summary, a video discussion and additional information (click here). Access a release from NOAA and links to additional information (click here).