Although our understanding of the Arctic is far from complete, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests melting Arctic ice will free massive deposits of methane locked in the permafrost of the far north. This represents an unprecedented danger both economically and ecologically. The latest evidence for this ticking time bomb was presented in a report by Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope & Peter Wadhams presented in the journal Nature.
Melting Arctic ice is expected to have far reaching impacts well beyond the far north. One of the most grievous threats comes from the release of methane trapped in the permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea. The authors estimate that the cost of a massive methane release off the northern coast of Russia alone is $60 trillion. This is a startling figure when we consider that the value of the global economy in 2012 was estimated to be $70 trillion.
“As the amount of Arctic sea ice declines at an unprecedented rate, the thawing of offshore permafrost releases methane. A 50-gigatonne (Gt) reservoir of methane, stored in the form of hydrates, exists on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. It is likely to be emitted as the seabed warms, either steadily over 50 years or suddenly. Higher methane concentrations in the atmosphere will accelerate global warming and hasten local changes in the Arctic, speeding up sea-ice retreat, reducing the reflection of solar energy and accelerating the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The ramifications will be felt far from the poles.”
The release of methane will rapidly accelerate the rate at which the earth is warming and therefore the rate of global flooding, ocean acidification, altered ocean and atmospheric circulation. As a corollary we can expect more extreme heat, droughts and storms and their concomitant impacts on agriculture.
The authors of the study ran many scenerios using the PAGE09 integrated assessment model which calculates the impacts of climate change and the costs of mitigation and adaptation measures.
All their statistical modeling came to the same conclusion:
“There is a steep global price tag attached to physical changes in the Arctic.”
Even in the low-emissions case, the mean net present value of global climate-change impacts is $82 trillion without the methane release (methane pulse), an extra $37 trillion, or 45 percent is added.
The researchers found that the “methane pulse will bring forward by 15–35 years the average date at which the global mean temperature rise exceeds 2°C above pre-industrial levels.”
It is clear that melting Arctic ice will have major implications for our oceans and our climate. The affects will be felt by all nations on earth, but some of the world’s poorest nations will be hardest hit.
The full costs of climate change transcends economics and augurs an apocalyptic future that threatens civilization itself.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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