Greenland Fires Ignite Climate Change Fears

Greenland Fires Ignite Climate Change Fears

SOURCE: AGU Eos DATE: Aug 11, 2017 SNIP: In a real clash of fire and ice, a massive wildfire in southern Greenland has captured the world’s attention. Although the current fire’s cause remains a mystery, peat from thawed permafrost could be its fuel, said Jessica McCarty, a geographer at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who specializes in geospatial analysis of wildfires. Permafrost, or permanently frozen soil, lies under multiple meters of an “active” soil layer that thaws seasonally. But in certain areas, when ice within the thawing permafrost layer melts, it can expose peat, a material that forms after decomposing plants get smashed down for centuries. The peat is made up of organic matter, most notably carbon, McCarty said. Given how readily it burns, she added, it’s almost like one giant charcoal briquette. If the fire is being fueled by thawed permafrost, there may be underlying climate change implications, McCarty continued. “The climate change [connection] is that there would be no fires here in Greenland if there were no fuel, and the only way that there’s fuel is if the permafrost is [thawed].” “Personally, this is very disturbing to me,” McCarty said, because the fire indicates significant permafrost degradation “sooner than [scientists] thought it would happen.” Researchers project significant permafrost loss in Greenland by the end of the century. Not 2017, she...
Methane Seeps Out as Arctic Permafrost Starts to Resemble Swiss Cheese

Methane Seeps Out as Arctic Permafrost Starts to Resemble Swiss Cheese

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: July 19, 2017 SNIP: Global warming may be unleashing new sources of heat-trapping methane from layers of oil and gas that have been buried deep beneath Arctic permafrost for millennia. As the Earth’s frozen crust thaws, some of that gas appears to be finding new paths to the surface through permafrost that’s starting to resemble Swiss cheese in some areas, scientists said. In a study released today, the scientists used aerial sampling of the atmosphere to locate methane sources from permafrost along a 10,000 square-kilometer swath of the Mackenzie River Delta in northwestern Canada, an area known to have oil and gas deposits. “This is another methane source that has not been included so much in the models,” said the study’s lead author, Katrin Kohnert, a climate scientist at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam,...
Lightning Sparking More Boreal Forest Fires

Lightning Sparking More Boreal Forest Fires

SOURCE: NASA JPL DATE: June 26, 2017 SNIP: A new NASA-funded study finds that lightning storms were the main driver of recent massive fire years in Alaska and northern Canada, and that these storms are likely to move farther north with climate warming, potentially altering northern landscapes. The study, led by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of California, Irvine, examined the cause of the fires, which have been increasing in number in recent years. There was a record number of lightning-ignited fires in the Canadian Northwest Territories in 2014 and in Alaska in 2015. The team found increases of between two and five percent a year in the number of lightning-ignited fires since...
Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

SOURCE: LiveScience and The Guardian DATE: May 22, 2017 SNIP: From The Guardian: It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel. The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”. But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault. From LiveScience: The seeds are safe — for now. But a famous “doomsday” seed vault is scrambling to renovate after melting permafrost penetrated its access tunnel. The organization Crop Trust, which partially funds and supports the vault, calls this permafrost a “fail-safe” storage facility on its web page. But climate change is causing this fail-safe facility to...
Slow-Freezing Alaska Soil Driving Surge in CO2 Emissions

Slow-Freezing Alaska Soil Driving Surge in CO2 Emissions

SOURCE: Climate Central DATE: May 14th, 2017 SNIP: Alaska’s soils are taking far longer to freeze over as winter approaches than in previous decades, resulting in a surge in carbon dioxide emissions that could portend a much faster rate of global warming than scientists had previously estimated, according to new research. Measurements of carbon dioxide levels taken from aircraft, satellites and on the ground show that the amount of CO2 emitted from Alaska’s frigid northern tundra increased by 70% between 1975 and 2015, in the period between October and December each year. “A lot of models were predicting this thawing would happen, but not for another 50 to 100 years – we didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” said Roisin Commane, researcher at the Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and lead author of the report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of...