Archive for September, 2008
The methane time bomb
Arctic scientists discover new global warming threat as melting permafrost releases millions of tons of a gas 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
The first evidence that millions of tons of a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere from beneath the Arctic seabed has been discovered by scientists.
The Independent has been passed details of preliminary findings suggesting that massive deposits of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats.
Underground stores of methane are important because scientists believe their sudden release has in the past been responsible for rapid increases in global temperatures, dramatic changes to the climate, and even the mass extinction of species. Scientists aboard a research ship that has sailed the entire length of Russia’s northern coast have discovered intense concentrations of methane – sometimes at up to 100 times background levels – over several areas covering thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf.
In the past few days, the researchers have seen areas of sea foaming with gas bubbling up through “methane chimneys” rising from the sea floor. They believe that the sub-sea layer of permafrost, which has acted like a “lid” to prevent the gas from escaping, has melted away to allow methane to rise from underground deposits formed before the last ice age.
They have warned that this is likely to be linked with the rapid warming that the region has experienced in recent years.
Methane is about 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and many scientists fear that its release could accelerate global warming in a giant positive feedback where more atmospheric methane causes higher temperatures, leading to further permafrost melting and the release of yet more methane.
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.
Orjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University in Sweden, one of the leaders of the expedition, described the scale of the methane emissions in an email exchange sent from the Russian research ship Jacob Smirnitskyi.
“We had a hectic finishing of the sampling programme yesterday and this past night,” said Dr Gustafsson. “An extensive area of intense methane release was found. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane. Yesterday, for the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface. These ‘methane chimneys’ were documented on echo sounder and with seismic [instruments].”
At some locations, methane concentrations reached 100 times background levels. These anomalies have been seen in the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea, covering several tens of thousands of square kilometres, amounting to millions of tons of methane, said Dr Gustafsson. “This may be of the same magnitude as presently estimated from the global ocean,” he said. “Nobody knows how many more such areas exist on the extensive East Siberian continental shelves.”
“The conventional thought has been that the permafrost ‘lid’ on the sub-sea sediments on the Siberian shelf should cap and hold the massive reservoirs of shallow methane deposits in place. The growing evidence for release of methane in this inaccessible region may suggest that the permafrost lid is starting to get perforated and thus leak methane… The permafrost now has small holes. We have found elevated levels of methane above the water surface and even more in the water just below. It is obvious that the source is the seabed.”
The preliminary findings of the International Siberian Shelf Study 2008, being prepared for publication by the American Geophysical Union, are being overseen by Igor Semiletov of the Far-Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Since 1994, he has led about 10 expeditions in the Laptev Sea but during the 1990s he did not detect any elevated levels of methane. However, since 2003 he reported a rising number of methane “hotspots”, which have now been confirmed using more sensitive instruments on board the Jacob Smirnitskyi.
Dr Semiletov has suggested several possible reasons why methane is now being released from the Arctic, including the rising volume of relatively warmer water being discharged from Siberia’s rivers due to the melting of the permafrost on the land.
The Arctic region as a whole has seen a 4C rise in average temperatures over recent decades and a dramatic decline in the area of the Arctic Ocean covered by summer sea ice. Many scientists fear that the loss of sea ice could accelerate the warming trend because open ocean soaks up more heat from the sun than the reflective surface of an ice-covered sea.
RESOURCES: NASA Scientist: Fix Climate or 'We're Toast' (Live Science) Prince Charles: Eighteen months to stop climate change disaster (Telegraph) The world may have nothing left to save tomorrow: Maneka Gandhi (India eNews) Al Gore: "Planetary Emergency!" (Fog City Journal)
According to the UN IPCC report “Livestock’s Long Shadow,”
livestock production is the greatest contributor to global warming.
Livestock production emissions: 18%
Global Transportation emissions: 13.5%
(including aviation accounts for 3.5%)
RESOURCES: Livestock’s Long Shadow(table 3.12 p 113) (UN FAO, 2007) US. GHG Emissions Flowchart (World Resources Institute)
Heart Disease: 1 trillion (US $/year)
Diabetes: 174 billion (US $/year)
Colon Caner: 6.5 billion (US $/year)
Obesity: 93 billion (US $/year)
Total: 120-150 billion (US $/year)
RESOURCES: United States Leads World Meat Stampede (World Watch Institute) Report Targets Costs Of Factory Farming (Washington Post) Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America(PDF)
- Heart Disease
- Colon Cancer
- Blue Tongue Disease
- E Coli
- Bird Flu
- Mad Cow Disease
- Pig’s Disease (PMWS)
- Listeriosis (most deadly, and on the rise)
- Shellfsh Poisoning
- Pre-eclampsia (complications in pregnancy)
- Most viruses have zoonotic origin
RESOURCES: Various Shellfish-Associated Toxins (US Food and Drug Administration) Farming: Notifiable diseases Zoonoses: Diseases (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) Meat, Pre-eclamsia, Campylobacter (Wikipedia) Listeria poisoning almost double (Independent)
1 can of tuna fish a week raises your mercury levels 30% above
what is considered to be safe.
Eating fish means ingesting toxins such as mercury, lead, arsenic, PCBs, DDT, dioxins, and many other chemicals.
Contaminants in fish can lead to brain damage, memory loss, personality change, heart problems, spontaneous abortion, and damage to a developing fetus.
RESOURCES: Top Three Reasons Not to Eat Fish (PeTA TV) Fish to Avoid During Childbearing Years (Care2) Rich folks eating fish feed on mercury too 'Healthy diet' clearly isn't (San Francisco Chronicle)
Livestock takes up 30% of the earth’s land surface which was once habitable for wildlife.
Tropical forests hold half of the world’s species which are becoming extinct an alarming rate due to deforestation for meat production.
Oceans empty of fish and ecosystems are destroyed due to industrial fishing, animal wastes, and agricultural pollutants.
RESOURCES: Livestock’s Long Shadow (p32, p185-p188) (UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 2007) Why are rainforests so important? (Cool Earth) Salt-Water Fish Extinction Seen By 2048 (CBS News)
1.3 billion tons of animal waste produced in the U.S.
Pollution strength up to 160 times greater than raw municipal waste.
Animal wastes contribute to large oceanic “dead zones,” which extended to nearly 7,903 sq. miles in the Gulf of Mexico during Summer of 2007.
In the U.S. alone, livestock is responsible for:
- 55% of erosion and sediment
- 37% of pesticide use
- 50% of antibiotic use
- 33% of nitrogen and phosphorus in freshwater
RESOURCES: America's Animal Factories How States Fail to Prevent Pollution from Livestock Wast (Natural Resources Defense Council) NOAA and Louisiana Scientists Predict Largest Gulf of Mexico “Dead Zone” on Record This Summer (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Livestock’s Long Shadow(executive summary, p.xxii) (UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 2007)
1.1 BILLION PEOPLE on the planet don’t have access to safe clean drinking water.
That’s 1 in 6 of us.
19,737 LITRES of water are needed to produce 1 pound of BEEF.
This is enough water to take a 7 minute shower every day for an entire year.
Prince Charles on Deforestation:
(European Parliament, 14 February 2008)
“We have 18 months to halt deforestation of the rain forests to preserve life on this planet.”
“Emissions (from deforestation) are comparable to those generated by the production of electricity and heat.”
“…we are destroying our planet’s air-conditioning system.”
“Amazonia’s forests alone help to store the largest body of flowing freshwater on the planet. They release 20 billion tonnes of it into the atmosphere every day…”
RESOURCES: A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales on climate change to the European Parliament in Brussels (14th February 2008) (The Prince of Wales) VIDEO: The Prince of Wales speaks about the world's rainforests (YouTube)