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Arctic Methane Could Accelerate Climate Change

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Arctic ice melt, both cause and effect of climate change.
Arctic ice melt, both cause and effect of climate change.

Dr. Jason Box, who knows the Arctic well, says that methane escaping from the ocean floor in that area could accelerate climate change beyond anything we’ve yet encountered.

Climate change, for some, may refer to the simple greenhouse effect driven by the release of carbon dioxide (CO2). Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as that. Far from being a closed system, mankind’s discovery and exploitation of fossil fuel deposits has indeed released unprecedented amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, so much so that atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been at their highest levels in the last 320,000 years of recorded history. Mauna Loa Observatory, for example, records the average CO2 concentration for June, 2014, at 401.3 ppm (parts per million). This rising CO2 content of the atmosphere is contributing to the greenhouse effect, trapping more heat in the air, land, and sea.

Unfortunately, climate change due to rising CO2 levels is generating a spiral effect, a positive feedback loop, which could lead us to a dangerous situation. Dr. Box colorfully notes that, if even a fraction of Arctic carbon is released, we’re “f-bombed as a species.” The problem is that warmer temperatures are increasing the temperatures of ocean currents, as well as air currents, which is leading to melting ice caps, permafrost, and the undesirable effects that these generate in their own turn. For example, some theorize that the recent hole that opened up in the Yamal Peninsula, Northern Russia, could actually have been caused by a collapsed pingo, that is, melted permafrost leaving a cavity, which caved in. It may also have been accompanied by a release of natural gas, which is commonly found in the area.

Natural gas being released from permafrost, as well as that escaping from arctic seafloor deposits, is what has Dr. Box concerned. Similar to the melting Russian permafrost, warmer-than-usual ocean currents are melting the seafloor permafrost, above the Arctic Circle, allowing methane to escape from there, as well. Methane (CH4) is also a potent greenhouse gas, about twenty times more potent than CO2, which will only add to the problem of climate change. In turn, warmer temperatures may accelerate melting of permafrost and frozen seafloors, releasing even more CH4, and the spiral continues. In short, as Dr. Box notes, it might already be too late. It might be interesting to note, as well, that Dr. Box recently relocated to Denmark, from Colorado, saying drought would be a major problem for interior states. Could he be the first climate change refugee?

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