Thursday, March 10, 2016

Permafrost and the Presidents

(Image of atmospheric methane. Source: Robert Scribbler blog)

Awareness of the arctic conditions are significant to the conversation on methane emissions. It also provides us with a sense of needed urgency. Regardless of the estimates of the timeline and severity of when and what will happen, it is important to understand the process. The arctic will continue to melt if hydrofluorocarbons (HFH) including methane are not controlled. If the temperature in the arctic rises due to methane and CO2 then the methane stored within the ice and permafrost of the arctic would further increase the greenhouse effect therefore increasing the temperature further. The resulting cascade would make efforts to reduce human production of greenhouse gases less effective at controlling climate change. The image above shows the increasing amounts of methane in the arctic between 2009 and 2013. It is clear that the red sections representing the highest levels of methane in the upper atmosphere are growing. 

According to Edward A. G. Schuur, Benjamin Abbott and the Permafrost Carbon Network’s article titled “High Risk of Permafrost Thaw” increases in global temperature could contribute to carbons, primarily methane, being released from the permafrost soil in the arctic. They estimate that around 18.8 million square kilometres of northern soils contain around 1,700 billion tonnes of organic carbon4, the remains of plants and animals that have been accumulating in the soil over thousands of years. That is about four times more than all the carbon emitted by human activity in modern times and twice as much as is present in the atmosphere now. The recent attention from US and Canadian leaders concerning methane emissions is encouraging in regards to controlling the release of permafrost methane in order to prevent uncontrollable climate change.
(Photo of permafrost melting. Source: LA Times)

According to the Canadian Broadcast Company the United States and Canada issued a joint statement on March 10th, 2016 that outlines steps to combat climate change. The statement was issued in conjunction with the meeting between Canadian President Trudeau and President Obama in which they emphasized reducing methane emissions from gas and oil industry with regulatory structures organized by Environment Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency to reduce methane levels by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.


(Photo of Obama and Trudeau. Source: CBC)
An additional elements stressed by the CBC was the protection of land in the arctic by the US/Canadian agreement including an effort to engage other Arctic nations to create a sustainable economy. The US Secretary of the interior told reporters “The Arctic is a leading indicator of what the planet faces in the years and decades ahead.” 

Considering the information presented, if the arctic is such as an important barometer of global health, reducing methane production should be top of mind when considering lifestyle choices.


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