Home > The Occasional Post on National Politics, Totally Freaked > The Permafrost Is Releasing Methane Now?

The Permafrost Is Releasing Methane Now?

I read this article in the LA Times about Russians racing to claim the seabed under the Arctic ice as their territory, other nations fussing that it’s really theirs, and everybody ignoring that the only way they can even have this argument is because the damn ice is melting away. Only it’s even worse than I realized. Because it isn’t just the ice melting away.

Now the permafrost is thawing on land and along the seabeds. If it occurs in the presence of oxygen on land, the decomposing of organic matter leads to the production of CO2. If the permafrost thaws along lake shelves, in the absence of oxygen, the decomposing matter releases methane. Methane is the most potent of the greenhouse gases, with a greenhouse effect 23 times that of CO2.
Katey Walter of the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks wrote in the journal Nature last year, and in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in May, that the melting of the permafrost and subsequent release of methane is a “ticking time bomb.”
Walter and her researchers warned of a tipping point sometime within this century, when the release of methane could create an uncontrollable feedback effect, dramatically warming the atmosphere, which would in turn warm the land, lakes and seabed, further melting the permafrost and releasing more methane. Once that threshold is reached, there will be nothing humans can do. Scientists suspect that similar events have occurred in the ancient past, between glacial periods…A global tragedy of monumental proportions is unfolding at the top of the world, and the human race is all but oblivious to what’s happening.

Well, I’m not oblivious anymore, but I am whimpering and wanting to curl up in the fetal position under my blanket. I know I’m supposed to react to news about climate change and global warming with a positive, can-do attitude and go out there and reduce my carbon footprint and lobby for better energy policy and long for the day when Dubya is just a bad memory and we can get down to some serious work on saving the earth, but every freaking day I read some horrifying thing like this on the internet or in my local paper, and frankly, I’m feeling a little bit hopeless.
Cheerful thoughts, anyone?

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