Search Results for Tag: research
Permafrost “tipping point” in less than 20 years?
I have been concerned about the effect of melting permafrost on the climate for quite some time, not least in the wake of encounters with scientists working in Greenland (this picture is Zackenberg, Greenland, 2009) and Alaska. Now research results published by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSDIC) in Boulder, Colorado are indicating that there could be a “tipping point” or a “starting point”, as Professor Kevin Schaefer prefers to call it, in less than 20 years. That means a point when the vast areas of permafrost in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe go from being a “carbon sink” to a carbon source. The study indicates as much as two-thirds of the carbon frozen into the permafrost could be released.
There’s more info on the NSIDC website and on the ips news website, based on an interview with Prof. Schaefer. Not happy reading, but without big reductions in emissions, it will probably be impossible to prevent this. On top of that come the methane emissions, not included in the study. Methane is much more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
DateFebruary 18, 2011 | 3:12 pm
Arctic Science and Politics
It was a full house all day here in the world’s northernmost university.
The first two days are designated the “political” section, Wednesday to Friday will be the “science” section. Of course there has to be some overlap, with the scientific background for the politicians and the political considerations giving context to the scientists.
At lunchtime I talked to some scientists from North America and Europe attending the whole week. They seemed to have the feeling the political discussions were only skimming the surface. Some of them also said – and I’ve heard this a number of times before at conferences like this – it was a real pity the politicians didn’t stay around to engage with the scientists. There seems to be a consensus though that it is a good idea to bring scientists and the politicians who have the responsibility to decide on action taken based on scientific research – and to fund research – together more often.
US Rear Admiral Dave Titley had an interesting interpretation of the “tipping point” theme. “Melting sea ice in the Polar Ocean – a tipping point for US politics in the Arctic” was his presentation. He was stressing the Arctic is “tipping” into the mainstream, i.e. no longer a remote area, but one where shipping and oil and gas extraction would be on the increase from 2030 onwards, with a whole month ice-free every summer. He made no bones about the fact that the ice is melting fast and we need progress on a “polar code” and search-and-rescue procedures. He says it’s just a matter of luck that there has been no major cruise ship disaster so far, in what will remain dangerous waters.
In between times I talked to a Norwegian and two Russian “explorers”, who know all about that, the ones who took ships through the northern sea passages just last year. Things are really changing fast up here. That brings us back to the tipping points.
Spanish marine ecology professor Carlos Duarte was the “scientist amongst the politicians”. And he painted a worrying picture. 6 out of 14 “tipping elements” in the earth system, he says, are located in the Arctic. Let me close with a quick list of the dangerous factors he described: sea ice and albedo, the Greenland ice sheet, sea level rise, thermokarst and permaforost melting, increased freshwater runoff, methane hydrate release, pollutant release, ocean reversal to a CO2 source, boreal forest dieback and peat fires. While the Greenland ice cap melting and sea level increase are likely to be very long-term factors, the others could all be acting within decades, he says, and “tipping over” like dominos. He told me in an interview that he is really concerned with the paradox involved in exploiting even more fossil fuels which will further increase global warming and bring the “points of no return” closer, faster. He feels we are not far away from the “tipping point” represented by melting Arctic sea ice.He thinks the politicians have to abandon their reluctance to take unilateral steps and get moving.
DateJanuary 25, 2011 | 11:46 am
Arctic Tipping Points
The auditorium here in Tromsö is packed full for the start of Arctic Frontiers. This is the fifth of these conferences and it attracts a lot of international attention. I asked a Norwegian newspaper colleague if it was likely to get a lot of attention in the national press. He says: sadly, no. He thinks there has been so much talk about climate change opening up new shipping routes, access to oil, gas and minerals that people have lost interest now that is actually happening. Overkill? Return to business as usual? Of course that’s just one person’s opinion, but this seems to be a general problem with the climate change topic.. Anyway here in the packed hall with almost a thousand participants registered for the course of this week, we certainly can’t complain about a lack of interest. And I hear a lot of Russian voices. There is a lot of talk of increasing cooperation between Norway and Russia (and they did settle a long-standing dispute about Arctic borders last year).
Jonas Gahr Store is Norway\’s foreign minister. Last night he opened an exhibition on polar explorers. This morning he opened the Arctic Frontiers conference with a speech entitled “State of the Arctic – Challenges ahead”.
It was a good summary of the current situation. He started with a reference to famous polar explorers, the Norwegians Fridtjof Nansen und Roald Amundsen, and the Russian Mikhail Lomonossov, all of whom are being commemorated as part of various anniversary ceremonies this year. He says humanity today faces a challenge in some ways similar, but as a collective challenge. Like the great explorers, we have to seize the moment, he said. He made it quite clear the Arctic climate is changing fast – and faster than anticipated – and quoted figures on temperature and sea ice decline, which make the region today very different from it was in the days of those polar explorers. Amundsen was the first to sail the North-East and the North-West passages, in 196 and 1920. Last year, modern „explorers“ sailed both within a few weeks.
Store says he is „deeply worried. The conference title is Arctic Tipping Points and that is being interpreted in various different ways at this Tromsö meeting. For the scientists, it refers to the climate. More about that in later sessions. It can also be a tipping point in terms of relations between different countries – those with Arctic territory and others, showing an increasing interest in the oil, gas and mineral resources of the Arctic, and, of course, the shipping routes.
If I try to put Store’s remarks into a nutshell: He stresses the need for international cooperation both with regard to the Arctic and reducing emissions. He admits a paradox between his country’s interests in coal, oil and gas, which, in turn, drive further climate change. But he says opting out of all that alone would not solve the problem. He says Norway will keep working for more renewables, capture carbon and storage and international agreements. He’s optimistic there will soon be a practicable „polar code“ for shipping
in the „harsh and environmentally challenging“ waters of the northern Arctic. (The BP-Russian agreement is creating some concern amongst people I’ve talked to here). He also looks forward to a legally binding search and rescue agreement, which he hopes will be signed in May in Greenland.
Of course sustainability is a buzzword here as elsewhere.
And with reference to possible security conflicts in the race to exploit resources,“low tension in the high north“ is the motto given by the Norwegian foreign minister.
Let me stop at that and listen to some more.
DateJanuary 24, 2011 | 7:58 am
The gateway to the Arctic
If you’ve ever thought it was getting increasingly difficult to find a public phone box in the age of mobiles – you’d have to dig deep for this one in Tromsö. (Or has Dr. Who landed a new-look tardus a little too deep? Apologies if you do not understand this reference). Yes, I have indeed arrived in the Arctic circle town, 2 hours flight north of Oslo. It’s actually an island, linked to the mainland by a fairly spectacular bridge.
Tromsö is nicknamed the “gateway to the Arctic“. Traditionally, that has been the case especially for polar explorers, scientists and fishermen. With the climate warming, it’s likely there will soon be all sorts of others heading through the gate in search of oil, gas or mineral riches…. But let’s leave that for later. The Arctic Frontiers conference officially starts tonight. I thought I’d set the scene for you before I head off to the ceremony.
We left Oslo this morning in beautiful weather, a pleasant (for ice-blogger types) minus five, sunshine on snow. By the time we got up north (well it is January and we are in the Arctic circle), there was so much snow falling on the runway we had to circle for half-an-hour while they got it swept again. Yes, I had a very guilty conscience about the emissions we were producing.
It was a great day for snow ploughs. I watched this little one through the window, keeping the harbour walk reasonably clear for pedestrians – and handily dumping the white stuff into the sea.
Still snow on the gangway though. I don’t expect those boats are going anywhere today.
Tromsö itself is quite picturesque, with a lot of these 19th century wooden buildings.
And if you’re into building snowmen, clearly it’s a great place to be.
Even if the weather outside looks pretty much as you might expect here at this time of year – more on the warming of the Arctic and what the politicians, scientists and locals here are saying about it tomorrow.
DateJanuary 23, 2011 | 4:45 pm
Arctic oil exploration 2015 – a changing climate?
(Frozen over Chukchi Sea)
Did it make you sit up and listen when you heard that particular little item of news? You could be fogiven if you missed it, hidden away in the business news somewhere. BP and the Russian state oil company Rosneft have signed an agreement which will let them join forces to exploit the oil and gas resources of Russia’s Arctic region – and the date envisaged is 2015.
With the Gulf of Mexico disaster just nine months past, I’d say there is every reason to be concerned about the fragile Arctic environment.
And the increasing interest, not just in this particular case, seems to me a clear indication that the climate is changing – and some of those changes are coming fast.
From this weekend onwards, I’ll be looking into the situation of the Arctic in particular at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, in Arctic Norway. I’ll keep you posted on what the politicians, scientists and environmentalists are saying.”Arctic Tipping Points” is the title of this year’s Arctic conference. It looks as if they might not be as far in the future as people once thought.
DateJanuary 18, 2011 | 9:23 am