Search Results for Tag: permafrost
Alarming rise in Arctic methane emissions
Sound familiar? Ice-blog readers will remember methane is more than 20 times as powerful as CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and that scientists in the Arctic are measuring the extent of methane emissions from melting permafrost.
There are billions of tonnes of methane captured in the Arctic soil. As temperatures rise and the permafrost melts, more methane is released. It increases the greenhouse effect further, resulting in a “feedback loop”, with the increased warming melting more permafrost and releasing even more methane.
Zackenberg station in Greenland, which I visited this year, is one of the Arctic stations measuring methane. If you haven’t heard the programme I made including interviews with Prof. Morten Rasch, who heads the Greenland environment monitoring programme, it’s available under the “climate” banner on the right of DW’s environment page. There’s also a photo gallery with brief texts if you don’t have the time to listen to the full feature.
Climate Monitoring in Arctic Greenland
Now a study presented in the journal Nature reports a massive rise in the amount of methane being released from the Arctic permafrost.
See also today’s edition of the Guardian.
Guardian’s David Adam on rise in Arctic methane emissions
Although only 2% of global methane comes from the Arctic, the increase is highest in the Arctic, which is warming much faster than the rest of the planet.
The Guardian quotes Prof. Paul Palmer from Edinburgh University as saying the study “does not show the Arctic has passed a tipping point, but it should open people’s eyes. it shows there is a positive feedback and that higher temperatures bring higher emissions and faster warming”.
Edinburgh Climate Expert Paul Palmer
DateJanuary 15, 2010 | 8:57 am
Vuew flying over Greenland to the west coast and Kangerlussuaq.
There would probably be no people here if the US military hadn’t been allowed to build a base here in the 1940s. During the war it played an important role supplying the American forces. It was also an important facility during the cold war. It still has the feel of a base with surrounding camp in the “middle of nowhere”.
The US owned the base until the early nineties, then sold it to the Danes for a token price of one dollar – “as it was”. That included all facilities – and, I was told by a guide here, any pollution, unexploded ammunition etc still to be dealt with. There is a no-go area that’s too risky to enter.
Still, the airport has secured the existence of Kangerlussuaq as a hub for air traffic coming in and out of western Greenland. Tourism is on the increase, according to the official tourism reps, as the settlement – now housing around 400 people – is just 40km away from the inland ice, so a base for trips to the ice and expeditions going out onto it or across it. Still, there is not much in the way of an infrastructure, and it doesn’t make the impression of being a booming “resort” or crowded with visitors. The airport terminal has a “hotel” and a cafeteria like a school canteen. There is one shop and a restaurant with restricted opening hours by Lake Ferguson, a lake above the town where the US forces once had their “rowing club”. There’s also Europe’s 2nd most northerly golf course,(after one in Sweden), but the club house looked pretty shut and there’s not much in the way of greens. Definitely no rival to St. Andrews Royal and Ancient, I’d say. But if you’re up to it, undoubtedly one of the most unusual courses in the world.
I stayed at the “Old Camp”, originally the construction workers’ accommodation, now a hostel with basic facilities, 2.5 km on foot or by hired mountain bike from the airport and various prefab buildings that form the “town”? “Village”?.
NEEM has its headquarters here at the “International Science Support Centre” – a grand name for a long container-building that has offices and accommodation for visiting scientists all in one. NEEM is an international consortium which operates an ice core drilling camp three hours flight out onto the ice. I met Professor Christine Hvidberg, from the ice and climate group at the University of Copenhagen, at the science support centre here. She normally works on ice floe modelling, but she’s spending part of her summer – with husband and four children – running the logistics for the ice core operation here at Kangerlussuaq. All the equipment, and a regular exchange of scientists, have to be flown in and out on chartered American military Hercules planes, big enough to carry heavy equipment and able to land on skis.
The drilling operation is going to drill right down through the Greenland ice, more than 2.5 kilometres at the drilling site, to add to previous ice core drilling operations and find the oldest Greenland ice with the climate records it contains, which will help with models for predicting future developments.
Muskox have been introduced to these areas from eastern Greenland, where they are indigenous, as I saw at Zackenberg last week.
We didn’t actually see any today, but since a quota can be legally hunted in this area, unlike the north-east national park where I was before, I don’t blame them for keeping a low profile.
Up on one of the hills above town, I got my first glimpse of the inland ice, apparently towering, shining white in the distance. That’s tomorrow’s programme.
In Kangerlussuaq, my attention was drawn to the problems of building on permafrost – or rather the problems when it starts to thaw, as is happening widely across the Arctic at the moment. The foundations start to sink. The wooden structure at the side of this building is actually a fridge, a cooling system, the rods coming out of the ground are iced over, to cool the permafrost under the structure and re-stabilize the building:
At the far end of the settlement, the huskies who pull sledges in the winter, are sweating in the summer sunshine, without any ice poles to cool them down. It’s around 4 degrees C in the morning (there is a change in temperature between morning and “night”) at the moment, but the round-the-clock sun makes the days feel warm.
Deutsche Welle reporters and Ice Bloggers always get the stories from the lead dog’s mouth:
I couldn’t resist this one:
DateJuly 27, 2009 | 8:40 pm
Zackenberg Station feels more like a camp, ten blue huts and some tent-like shelters in a wide valley, with snow-topped mountains behind and the water of the Young Sound fjord below. It is equipped with everything the scientists need for their “High Arctic research”, including wet and dry labs and all sorts of electronic monitoring equipment, but it remains a camp in a very remote area. It was set up 1995-96 and officially opened in ’97. It’s still small and exclusive, for a maximum of 25 people. There are only 13 of us right now, including the two “logisticians” Phillip and “Tower” and the cook, Lone.
The dirt runway can only take the Twin Otter or helicopters. At the moment, starting mid-July, there’s a plane once a week, as this is the high season. Up to last year, there was only one a fortnight. The station is only staffed in summer, June to September, as a rule.
We newcomers had our essential safety briefing with Phillip, our logistician, first thing this morning: radio use, flare pistols and how to use a rifle (!) Phillip is clearly a man who knows how to look after himself, looks tough and wiry, always has a knife in his belt and is clearly a good shot. In his black gear, including “Zero” (Zackenberg Station Logo) T-shirt and tammy, he could belong to some crack army unit (or a James Bond film) and he gives you the impression he is not a man to be trifled with. Still, he’s very patient with a visiting journo who has never fired a weapon in her life.
No, I’m not thinking of applying for the army or even our local “Schuetzenverein” (German traditional local hunting and shooting clubs) after this, but we are advised it’s a good idea to know how to fire a flare pistol and a rifle, in case of emergency (polar bears or musk oxen, plenty of the latter around here, although so far I’ve only seen the droppings and the fluff from their coats, but then I’ve only been here a day).
I was quite surprised by this, only ever having been in places where weapons are only handed out to people with licenses and training. Things are different in Greenland. Even Lone, our new cook, had to have a go with the gun (fresh meat for the kitchen?!).
I’m sure the guys all ducked for cover when I made my attempts, and I don’t think the polar bears or musk oxen have much to worry about on my account. The weather is still incredibly good, bright sunshine around the clock and clear blue skies, fresh cool Arctic air. I headed out towards the “climate station” this afternoon (took the radio, declined the rifle), where Julie Falk from Copenhagen was trying to fix the Co2 monitor. I’m really impressed at her technical know-how.
She tells me she has no choice, in this remote location, but is frustrated about the problems of getting spare parts. We also had a look at the methane measuring station. Zackenberg came up with some headline-making results about methane emissions in the Arctic. Terrestrial wetland emissions are the largest single source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The Zackenberg data provides hourly methane flux measurements from this high Arctic setting, into the late autumn and early winter, which means during the onset of soil freezing.
The scientists found out that the emissions fall to a low steady level after the growing season, but then increase significantly during the “freeze-in” period. Basically, the findings from here suggest that this could help explain the seasonal distribution of methane emissions from high latitudes, which had been puzzling scientists before. The methane is measured in glass traps which normally open and close automatically regularly and are linked to methane monitors.
Unfortunately, there’s a technical problem at the moment, but Julie was able to offload the data already logged there onto her laptop for the Zackenberg BASIC data base. More about that tomorrow, when I’ll be talking to our scientific leader Lars. If D. is reading this, remember you asked if this expedition would be very “physical”? Well so far everything here is being done on foot, with the ornithologists walking 25 km sometimes. So I think the answer is yes, and my trusty hiking boots are getting a good work-out.
DateJuly 17, 2009 | 9:01 am
Climate Change threatening Arctic Seed Vault
I heard one piece of news this week which shocked me – and it worries me that it didn’t make its way into most of the media.
Earlier this year, the Global Seed Vault was opened on the Norwegian Arctic island of Spitsbergen. The idea is to store seeds of all the earth’s important plants, so that if we should experience any kind of major catastrophe, from nuclear explosions to mass epidemics or – yes – climate change, there could be a new start with the seeds from this bunker. It’s built into a hill, supposedly covered with permafrost.The seeds have to be kept between minus 18 and minus 20 degrees C.
But the vault hasn’t even survived one polar summer, with temperatures on the rise. The permafrost has partially thawed and the entrance tunnel to the vault has been damaged.
The Global Seed Vault management seem to be playing this down and say they’ll just have to use the bunker’s cooling system more often. But surely, that’s not quite the point?
Story and pictures on Spiegel Online
And here’s the link to the Global Seed Vault project:
All about the Spitsbergen bunker:
DateSeptember 11, 2008 | 7:38 am
Lions, Giraffes and Hippos on Ice ?
So what are these African animals (I took the pictures in Tanzania) doing on the Ice Blog? Of course it’s all about biodiversity.
The Arctic is particularly sensitive to climate change and acts as a kind of early warning system. At the same time, ice melting up there will have consequences for the whole planet. I’ve gone on a lot about how melting sea ice affects the flora and fauna in Arctic regions. There’s also been a mention of how melting glaciers change the temperature, salinity and light conditions of the ocean. I’m currently working on a radio feature on my trip out onto the sea ice up in the Arctic with the “ambassadors” from the Climate Change College and scientist Chris Petrich. (Listen out for that in Living Planet). One of the main subjects of his research is the “albedo effect”. That is all about how the whiteness of ice and snow reflects solar radiation back up off the earth’s surface. When the snow cover decreases, the “melt ponds” are a much darker cover, and that absorbs warmth – exacerbating the overall warming effect. So, polar areas have a huge importance for the planet as a whole. Then there is the methane (around 23 times more powerful than c02 as a climate gas) being released from the huge areas of melting permafrost.
All this effects not only the area where it happens, but the whole planet. And of course, the sea level is rising, which will have disastrous effects for all the low-lying areas of the globe.
All our species of plants and animals are dependent on particular habitats and living conditions – from polar bears to giraffes, hippos, kangaroos or cuckoos. (Listen to Alison Hawkes on the plight of the “bird of the year” in the Black Forest. Will cuckoos exist soon only in those quaint – or exasperating – clocks?)
The Cuckoo Story
Last night the IUCN and UNEP staged an event here in Bonn to mark Biodiversity Day.
More about the IUCN
During it, I met Pavan Sukhdev,who’s heading the TEEB project,that is a study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. I felt very privileged to have the chance to talk to the man who’s in charge of what some people say could do for biodiversity what Nicholas Stern’s report did for climate change. The idea is to put a price on nature and make it clear, in economic terms, what it is worth to protect our biodiversity. The first part of the report will be presented in Bonn next week, but he did give me an idea of the scale of things. You can read the interview here:
Pavan Sukhdev on putting a price on nature
DateMay 23, 2008 | 8:43 am
TagsAfrica, Arctic, Biodiversity, Climate, Climate Change College, CO2, economics, feedback loops, IUCN, Living Planet, methane, permafrost, sea ice, Sea level, TEEB, UNEP, wildlife