Thursday, August 09, 2007

"One giant leap backward for life on Earth"

Further to the post on the potential riches hidden on the sea bed under the arctic ice cap comes a second article, this time from the LA Times, which provides another set of alarming information.

Apparently, geologists believe that something like 25% of the planet's as yet undiscovered oil and gas may lie under the arctic ice, so its no real surprise that the Russian two miles deep flag planting stunt took place last week. And now "Norway, Canada and Denmark (through its possession of Greenland) are all using the continental-shelf argument to claim the Arctic seabed as an extension of their own sovereign territories".

OK, not specifically alarming in its own right, though the geo-political arguments that will ensue as these and other major world powers start to argue about just how to divvy up the arctic's riches are the sort of thing that has caused major conflict throughout human history. No, this worry concerns something else that is locked up under the ice, and in the permafrost in the surrounding continental land masses.

"While governments and oil giants are hoping the melting ice will allow them access to the world's last treasure trove of oil and gas, climatologists are deeply worried about something else buried under the ice that, if unearthed, could wreak havoc on the biosphere, with dire consequences for human life."

The big worry is the release of CO2 and, more importantly, methane, which scientists have long known to be the most potent of the greenhouse gases, as organic matter locked up in the permafrost and on the seabed decays when warming occurs. I'll let these quotes from the article make the key points.

" ... researchers warned of a tipping point sometime within this century, when the release of methane could create an uncontrollable feedback effect, dramatically warming the atmosphere, which would in turn warm the land, lakes and seabed, further melting the permafrost and releasing more methane. Once that threshold is reached, there will be nothing humans can do. Scientists suspect that similar events have occurred in the ancient past, between glacial periods."

"A global tragedy of monumental proportions is unfolding at the top of the world, and the human race is all but oblivious to what's happening. "

I've always found some human behaviour very strange, and this is no exception. Here we have climatologists warning of an atmospheric methane injection tipping point that may cause runaway global warming; yet all the various governments appear to worry about is how to grab as much of the arctic's potential resources as possible.

It was ever thus.