Experts predict at the current melting rate of Arctic ice, which is a primary regulator of Earth’s climate, it could be gone forever by 2030.
The consequences are formidable because the sudden release of methane (CH4), a dangerous greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, could be catastrophic to the human population.
Researchers estimate there are 1,000 gigatons of methane embedded under the Arctic ice, and if the release occurs fast enough, it could produce a mass extinction of species worldwide, which would not leave humans unscathed.
Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks discovered that methane is leaking from the Arctic sea floor faster than originally thought.
Thom Hartmann puts it into perspective in his Alternet Environment piece:
“Just seven years ago, estimates suggested that only 500,000 tons of methane were being released into Earth's atmosphere each year. Now we're measuring 17 million tons of it. Just in the Arctic.”
In addition, scientists have been warning about the dangers of melting Arctic permafrost for years, because it contains massive amounts of carbon and methane gases.
Once methane has been released from organic material there’s no getting the Genie back in the bottle.
"The release of carbon dioxide and methane from warming permafrost is irreversible: once the organic matter thaws and decays away, there is no way to put it back into the permafrost," said lead researcher Kevin Schaefer, from the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Melting Arctic and Antarctic ice has garnered more attention in recent months, but the frightening part is just how inaccurate in a bad way some climate-predicting models have been due to the lack of factoring for increased methane release and permafrost feedback.
"Permafrost is one of the keys to the planet's future because it contains large stores of frozen organic matter that, if thawed and released into the atmosphere, would amplify current global warming and propel us to a warmer world," said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
The emerging issue of melting Arctic ice and permafrost has experts discovering that it’s happening about 20 years sooner than “13 of the most accurate models” predicted.
Ironically, melting Antarctic ice has gained attention due to previously unestablished shipping lanes that could allow exploitation of mineral, gas and oil embedded under the sea floor.
Hartmann sums up the warning of a melting Arctic methane time bomb succinctly:
“Now, we can't directly stop Arctic sea ice from melting and releasing methane into the atmosphere, but we can help stop what's contributing to that melting in the first place: fossil fuel extraction.”
Arctic resource rush: Icebreaker Polar Sea to be added to anemic US fleet
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Delilah Jean Williams, environmental and political journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.***PrairieDogPress is the media channel for keystone-prairie-dogs.com, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.