I nearly missed the report below. In yesterday’s the Irish Times the near one-third rise in arctic methane emissions wasn’t reported in world news; rather it was on the bulletin page, a fine page – no quibbles here – but a page dominated by weather forecasting, the crossword, chess and cartoons, and, simply put, not the world news pages. Could a 31 per cent in methane emissions in the arctic between 2003 and 2007 be world news?
It’s not the first time. I did a quick check back, just honing in on late 2008, and found some similar instances.
“Pollution levels rising too fast, says, expert”, 28 October 2008. Data compiled by Australian expert Ross Garnaut showed that carbon pollution rose 1 per cent a year during the 1990s but 3 per cent a year since 2000, significantly higher than what the UN considered to be the worst case scenario of 2.5 per cent. Garnaut concluded that industrialised nations would have to reduce emissions by 5 per cent a year in order to avoid runaway climate change, rendering cuts targets of 3 per cent a year insufficient.
Three days later, “Man-made climate change extending its effects”, 31 October 2008, saw latest figures on sea level rise reported in the same space and on 1 November 2008 report on the reluctance of Czech authorities to discuss climate change during its presidency was placed alongside the weather columns.
The Irish Times – Friday, January 15, 2010
Massive spike in Arctic methane levels
SCIENTISTS have recorded a massive spike in the amount of a powerful greenhouse gas seeping from Arctic permafrost, in a discovery that highlights the risks of a climate tipping point.
Experts say methane emissions from the Arctic have risen by almost a third in just five years, and that sharply rising temperatures are to blame.
The discovery follows a string of reports from the region in recent years that previously frozen boggy soils are melting and releasing methane in greater quantities.
Such Arctic soils lock away billions of tonnes of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, leading some scientists to describe melting permafrost as a time-bomb that could overwhelm efforts to tackle climate change.
They fear the warming caused by increased methane emissions will release yet more methane and lock the region into a destructive cycle that forces up temperatures faster than predicted.
Paul Palmer, a scientist at Edinburgh University who worked on the study, said: “High latitude wetlands are currently only a small source of methane but for these emissions to increase by a third in five years is very significant. It shows that even a relatively small amount of warming can cause a large increase in the amount of methane emissions.”
Global warming is occurring twice as fast in the Arctic as elsewhere. Some regions have already warmed by 2.5 degrees and temperatures there are projected to increase by more than 10 degrees by 2100, if carbon emissions continue to rise at current rates.
Dr Palmer said: “This study does not show the Arctic has passed a tipping point, but it should open people’s eyes. It shows there is a positive feedback and that higher temperatures bring higher emissions and faster warming.”
The change in the Arctic was enough to explain a recent increase in global methane levels in the atmosphere, he said.
Global levels have risen steadily since 2007, after about a decade of holding steady.
The study, published in the journal Science, shows that methane emissions from the Arctic increased by 31 per cent from 2003 to 2007. The rise represents about a million extra tonnes of methane each year.
Dr Palmer cautioned that the five-year increase was too short to call a definitive trend.
The findings are part of a wider study of methane emissions from global wetlands, which found over half of methane emissions came from the tropics, with 20 million tonnes released from the Amazon basin each year, and 26 million tonnes from the Congo basin.
Paddy fields across Asia produced just under a third of global methane, at 33 million tonnes. Only 2 per cent of global methane comes from Arctic latitudes, though the region showed the largest increases. – (Guardian service)
I agree – it’s a super column but it deserves more prominence. I’ve often wondered where the material comes from, is it reuters?
The reason these methane statistics end up as small notes printed in the margins is because the editors and sub-editors don´t know what they mean. It´s like your doctor spending most of his or her time explaining the treatment for your in-grown toenail and then briefly mentioning a growth found in your left lung as you go out the door.
Further investigation into arctic methane yields information that the Russians would like to use piped warm water to get at methane hydrates under their permafrost and some companies would like to dislodge methane hydrates from marine sediments. Both of these stories flickered across my pages in the last year or two and were never mentioned again. They are terrifying.
With due respect to the Irish Times and the other Irish papers, they are edited by people for whom national politics is of consuming interest. Scientific news is hard for them to relate to which is why the news equivalent of “a growth in your left lung” is left to page 56 beside the greyhound racing results and spot prices for potatoes in Meath.
Incidentally does anyone here see the makings of a horrible source of social and political unrest should the schism between climate change supporters and climate change sceptics worsen further? The tension in the debate is hugely unsettling.