Climate crisis: Alaska is melting and it’s likely to accelerate global heating

Climate crisis: Alaska is melting and it’s likely to accelerate global heating

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: June 14, 2019 SNIP: A city in western Alaska has lost a huge stretch of riverbank to erosion that may turn it into an island, amid renewed warnings from scientists over the havoc triggered by the accelerating melting of the state’s ice and permafrost. Residents of the small city of Akiak were alarmed to find the Kuskokwim River suddenly much closer to housing after about 75-100ft of riverbank disappeared over the course of just a few hours. The erosion, which occurred late last month, stripped away the riverbank for the entire length of Akiak, which has a population of around 340. “The changes are really accelerating in Alaska,” said Susan Natali, a scientist and Arctic expert at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. “It’s pretty likely this riverbank in Akiak was lost because of thawing permafrost, given where it’s situated and the warm winter and spring they’ve had. It’s not a problem that’s going to go away.” Alaska has just experienced its warmest spring on record, breaking a record only set in 2016. Since the 1970s, springtime in the state has heated up by around 2.2C (4F), double the global temperature rise of the past century. Scientists recently found [thawing permafrost] could trigger a dangerous acceleration of global heating that would cause tens of trillions of dollars in climate-related damage. A separate study found that parts of the Canadian Arctic are experiencing a rate of permafrost thaw six times the long-term...
Widespread permafrost degradation seen in high Arctic terrain

Widespread permafrost degradation seen in high Arctic terrain

SOURCE: Phys.org DATE: May 23, 2019 SNIP: A McGill-led study published recently in Environmental Research Letters presents close to 30 years of aerial surveys and extensive ground mapping of the Eureka Sound Lowlands area of Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg Islands located at approximately 80 °N. The research focuses on a particular landform (known as a retrogressive thaw slump) that develops as the ice within the permafrost melts and the land slips down in a horseshoe-shaped feature. The presence of these landforms is well documented in the low Arctic. But due to the extremely cold climate in high Arctic polar deserts (where average annual ground and air temperatures are -16.5 °C/2.3 °F, and -19.7 °C /-3.46 °F, respectively), and the fact that the permafrost is over 500 metres (or about 1/3 of a mile) thick, it had been assumed this landscape was stable. But the McGill-led research team found that this has not been the case. “Our study suggests that the warming climate in the high Arctic, and more specifically the increases in summer air temperatures that we have seen in recent years, are initiating widespread changes in the landscape,” says Melissa Ward Jones, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. candidate in McGill’s Department of Geography. There has been a widespread development of retrogressive thaw slumps in high Arctic polar deserts over a short period, particularly during the unusually warm summers of 2011, 2012 and 2015. The absence of vegetation and layers of organic soil in these polar deserts make permafrost in the area particularly vulnerable to increases in summer air temperatures. Despite its relatively short duration, the thaw...
Rapid Permafrost Thaw Unrecognized Threat to Landscape, Global Warming Researcher Warns

Rapid Permafrost Thaw Unrecognized Threat to Landscape, Global Warming Researcher Warns

SOURCE: University of Guelph DATE: April 30, 2019 SNIP: A “sleeping giant” hidden in permafrost soils in Canada and other northern regions worldwide will have important consequences for global warming, says a new report led by University of Guelph scientist Merritt Turetsky. Scientists have long studied how gradual permafrost thaw occurring over decades in centimetres of surface soils will influence carbon release to the atmosphere. But Turetsky and an international team of researchers are looking at something very different: rapid collapse of permafrost that can transform the landscape in mere months through subsidence, flooding and landslides. “We are watching this sleeping giant wake up right in front of our eyes,” said Turetsky, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Integrative Ecology. Describing the formation of thaw lakes and landslides triggering mass movement of soil and sediment into rivers and streams, Turetsky adds: “It’s happening faster than anyone predicted. We show that abrupt permafrost thawing affects less than 20 per cent of the permafrost region, but carbon emissions from this relatively small region have the potential to double the climate feedback associated with permafrost...
‘It’s already begun’: Feedback loops will make climate change even worse, scientists say

‘It’s already begun’: Feedback loops will make climate change even worse, scientists say

SOURCE: Yahoo! Finance DATE: April 22, 2019 SNIP: When the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its dire report in October warning of humanity’s fast-approaching reckoning with global warming, one factor adding to the urgency was a new estimate about how much additional carbon dioxide was being added to the atmosphere as a result of the warming of Arctic permafrost. With rising Arctic temperatures setting free a vast amount of carbon previously locked beneath permafrost, the additional greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere would speed up warming, the report concluded — and that, in turn, would further melt the permafrost. It is “feedback loops” like that one that make climate change unpredictable and represent a threat of global warming spiraling out of control. “It’s already begun,” Thomas Crowther, professor in the Department of Environmental Systems Science of ETH Zurich, told Yahoo News. “The feedback is in process.” Crowther estimates that carbon dioxide and methane emissions from thawing soils are “accelerating climate change about 12 to 15 percent at the moment,” and said past IPCC reports that left out the feedback “were way more optimistic than they should have been.” Almost every scientist studying the effects of climate change is worried about the extent to which feedback loops will hasten global warming. One of the most serious concerns is the “albedo effect,” the amount of the sun’s radiation the planet reflects back into space, mostly from the polar ice sheets. The warming that has already occurred has begun melting the ice caps, leaving the relatively dark ocean and land exposed to absorb solar radiation — further warming...
Melting Permafrost Releasing High Levels of Nitrous Oxide, A Potent Greenhouse Gas

Melting Permafrost Releasing High Levels of Nitrous Oxide, A Potent Greenhouse Gas

SOURCE: Yale e360 and Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics DATE: April 15, 2019 SNIP: Thawing permafrost in the Arctic may be releasing 12 times as much nitrous oxide as previously thought, according to a new study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, can remain in the atmosphere for up to 114 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The research, led by scientists at Harvard University, involved measuring greenhouse gas levels over 120 square miles of melting permafrost in the North Slope of Alaska. The data, collected using a small plane, showed that the nitrous oxide emitted over the course of just one month of sampling in 2013 was equal to what was thought to be the region’s yearly emissions. The findings back up similar results from other recent studies that used core samples from Arctic peat to measure rising nitrous oxide emissions. Nitrous oxide emissions have been rising globally in recent decades thanks to the expansion of industry and intense fertilizer use. But scientists had long thought that emissions of the gas from melting permafrost were “negligible,” as the EPA described it in a 2010...