Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Climatology 1


It seems to me the national debate over climate change has become for many people an issue of politics rather than science. As part of my personal effort to reverse this trend, I'm going to start putting up regular posts on the actual, nuts and bolts research which is going on all over the globe aimed at understanding climate change - both as to its underlying causes and effects.

As you read these posts, I would ask you to bear in mind that there is a world of difference between going out and doing the hard work of collecting and analizing data - or just sitting in front of a computer screen and spinning conspiracy theories.

Dr. Igor Semiletov is a visiting scientist to the International Arctic Research Center located at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. From his bio:

"Dr. Igor Semiletov has joined the IARC as the visiting scientist from the Pacific Oceanological Institute, Far Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences. His primary research interest is Carbon Cycling in the Arctic atmosphere-land-shelf system. While his earlier research emphasized sources and sinks of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and CH4 (methane) in the Arctic and their relationships to atmospheric maximums of both major greenhouse gases over the Arctic..."

Dr. Igor Semiletov leads the International Siberian Shelf Study (ISSS), the most important work of which is to study the release of methane from the (undersea) Siberian Shelf.

And why is this important? The BBC has a fairly readable account. An excerpt:

"Scientists have uncovered what appears to be a further dramatic increase in the leakage of methane gas that is seeping from the Arctic seabed. Methane is about 20 times more potent than CO2 in trapping solar heat."

"The findings come from measurements of carbon fluxes around the north of Russia, led by Igor Semiletov from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

"Methane release from the East Siberian Shelf is underway and it looks stronger than it was supposed [to be]," he said.

Professor Semiletov has been studying methane seepage in the region for the last few decades, and leads the International Siberian Shelf Study (ISSS), which has launched multiple expeditions to the Arctic Ocean.

The preliminary findings of ISSS 2009 are now being prepared for publication, he told BBC News.

Methane seepage recorded last summer was already the highest ever measured in the Arctic Ocean."

Why is this so important? Well, scientists believe that as a result of global warming, the layer of permafrost which acted as a "cap" on the seabed of the Siberian Shelf is gradually melting and allowing the methane trapped beneath to escape - often in plumes (called "methane chimneys") which were readily observable from the expedition ships.

From another article in "The Independent":

"The amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic is calculated to be greater than the total amount of carbon locked up in global coal reserves so there is intense interest in the stability of these deposits as the region warms at a faster rate than other places on earth."

Further evidence of the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming on permafrost comes from a study by Sergei Kirpotin of Tomsk State University in Siberia, and Judith Marquand of Oxford University. From an article in The New Scientist on that study:

" THE world's largest frozen peat bog is melting. An area stretching for a million square kilometres across the permafrost of western Siberia is turning into a mass of shallow lakes as the ground melts, according to Russian researchers just back from the region.

The sudden melting of a bog the size of France and Germany combined could unleash billions of tonnes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

The news of the dramatic transformation of one of the world's least visited landscapes comes from Sergei Kirpotin, a botanist at Tomsk State University, Russia, and Judith Marquand at the University of Oxford...

"Siberia's peat bogs formed around 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. Since then they have been generating methane, most of which has been trapped within the permafrost, and sometimes deeper in ice-like structures known as clathrates. Larry Smith of the University of California, Los Angeles, estimates that the west Siberian bog alone contains some 70 billion tonnes of methane, a quarter of all the methane stored on the land surface worldwide.

His colleague Karen Frey says if the bogs dry out as they warm, the methane will oxidise and escape into the air as carbon dioxide. But if the bogs remain wet, as is the case in western Siberia today, then the methane will be released straight into the atmosphere. Methane is 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide..."

In addition, the Columbia Daily Tribune (Canada) carried an article on the accelerated melting of Canadian permafrost:

"Permafrost, tundra soil frozen year-round and covering almost one-fifth of Earth’s land surface, runs anywhere from 160 to 2,000 feet deep in this region. Entombed in that freezer is carbon — plant and animal matter accumulated through millennia.

As the soil thaws, these ancient deposits finally decompose, attacked by microbes, producing carbon dioxide and — if in water — methane. Both are greenhouse gases, but methane is many times more powerful in warming the atmosphere.

Researchers led by the University of Florida’s Ted Schuur last year calculated that the top10 feet of permafrost alone contain more carbon than is now in the atmosphere."

Now Steve, it seems to me that broadly there are two levels of global warming denialism. The first is that "It isn't happening" and the second is "It is happening, but humans aren't responsible for it".

In this post I've referenced, with helpful links, three areas of study regarding the melting of the Arctic permafrost: one on the Siberian (undersea) Shelf, one on Siberia itself and one on the situation in Canada. Go to the links I gave you and you can see the evidence with your own eyes. Significantly, none of these studies were authorized or conducted by the IPCC or the CRU.

Steve, the reason why we call it permafrost in the first place is because it is supposed to be permanent. If the Arctic permafrost is melting, a fact which you can confirm with your own personal eyes, isn't it entirely rational and logical to conclude that this is because the Earth is, well, um, getting warmer? And, assuming you are not willing to deny the testimony of your own eyes, wouldn't this mean that the first assertion of global warming denialism, that is, that it isn't happening, is invalid?

Unless you have some other, scientifically plausible reason why the Arctic permafrost is in the process of melting, can we now move on to the denialist's fall back position - that humans aren't making significant contributions to it?


1 comment:

  1. Nice post.

    Remember: I do not dispute GW - the climate changes (goes up and down) - that is clear from a multitude of observations. I object to *A*-GW, assigning primary blame to man's actions. (Do we affect the climate, Yes, all creatures do. Can we manipulate the global climate with a reasonable level of certainty? NO. Sorry: not proven.

    First, I do NOT deny the reports about Russian permafrost. But I must point out that the ABSENCE of an alternative explanation (or theory) DOES NOT PROVE the underlying AGW theory, especially the aspect of holding up man-made CO2 as the culprit. Remember: The scientific method is all about FALSIFYING theories, not proving them.

    Second, even if one made that leap based on the THREAT of a CHANCE that methane MIGHT be released from warming tundra, it is another leap of even greater significance to assign the 'blame' for GW upon human activity. We just don't know enough about the interrelationship and interconnected mechanisms that affect climate. We have a large number of very dedicated researchers trying to gather data and figure that out. I applaud them, as do you. But we just aren't there yet.

    The predominate aspects of the AGW theory is clearly founded in supporting a POLITICAL agenda; not in the pursuit of Science. That doesn't mean *some* researchers are not politically driven, but many clearly are. Otherwise you would not see the huge numbers of climate scientists distancing themselves from the political aspects, including many researchers originally quoted - and sometimes mis-quoted - in the IPCC reports. They are publicly concentrating on the science research alone.

    By the way, I'm glad you pointed out the METHANE issue - it's been shown to have about 25 times the effect of CO2 in lab tests (which are not reality, but significant as a starting point). I started looking awhile back into WHERE natural sources of methane can be found... My last search yielded interesting studies about TERMITES and the amount of methane they generate. Again, that research issue doesn't prove/disprove AGW, although it may indicate actions of mankind is not the driving force.

    Obviously, I'll post more on this later. But I sincerely appreciate your efforts to keep the topic alive on the blog.

    - Steve