Permafrost Perma-Emergency

With widespread permafrost melting, we start dyingA new study in the journal Bioscience finds permafrost holds twice as much greenhouse gas [ark | moreark] as previously thought, and that “release of even a fraction would accelerate climate change dramatically”. Covering some one fifth of the Earth's land surface, permafrost [search] is permanently frozen land, defined as soil that has remained below zero degrees C for at least two years. Permafrost was found to hold some 1,500 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide and methane, double what is currently held in the atmosphere.
Of all potential climate change positive feedback loops [search], skyrocketing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels leading to warming and melting of permafrost shows the most immediate potential to quicken global warming. The phenomenon of melting permafrost is so self evident, the mechanism so clear, that little doubt remains — continued warming trends, leads to widespread permafrost melting, and we start dying. These are very dangerous times and failure to implement emergency measures including ending cutting of natural vegetation and burning of coal will assuredly destroy being.

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15 Responses

  1. Going Green says:

    There was a Discovery Channel show about covering the glaciers with special sheets to keep them frozen… i wonder if this can be done for the permafrost…..

  2. R. Gates says:

    The positive feedback loop initiated by the melting of permafrost in the arctic regions is something I've been studying for years. The problem is really two-fold as there is both an increase release of carbon dioxide and methane, with methane being far more worrisome as it is so much more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas AND, there is no clear cut way to sequester the methane as we can with carbon dioxide.
    I've been following the methane levels in the atmosphere very closely for years, and while the growth seemed to have leveled off a few years ago after decades of rising, last year there was a huge increase, and it seems much of it came from the warmer arctic and melting permafrost.
    There is also one major wild-card in the methane story, and that is the methane trapped in the ocean sea-beds in the form of clathrates. If the oceans start to warm, (as they are), huge amounts of methane could be released from this frozen form of methane (trapped in regular ice). There is even some suggestions that prior massive extinctions may have actually come from these methane clathrates being released.
    You are so very correct to bring the melting permafrost issue up…as it is the #1 feedback mechanism in Global Warming that could very well spell the end of us…
    R. Gates

  3. Josh says:

    I've long since accepted that the world as we know it is about to become incredibly Hobbesian. I have absolutely no doubt that methane release is about to escalate into a massive heat inducing feedback loop. I've been convinced of this for a few years now and recent evidence indicates that it will happen far faster than anticipated.
    The question is not how will it happen, or even when. The question is: What do we do?
    And I'm not talking about how to prevent it. I have already accepted that this is a cause we most likely won't win (not that it isn't worth trying…IT IS!).
    So, my question really is: Where do we move to in order to form an isolated self-sustaining community with solar power and food grown in temperature controlled greenhouses?

  4. R. Gates says:

    Your last question is not an unreasonable one and shows how farsighted you are…but take that a step further…even supposing you could find some sort of place where you could create such a community (and I have my doubts that you could), how would you defend it from the hungry hordes who would inevitably come, like hungry locusts, looking for any and everything to eat, consume, etc?
    You might create such a place, but unless it was somehow well defended, when the world food supply crashes, you'll have hundred of millions of people who will be quite desperate for scraps of food. I suspect they'd overrun your eco-Shangri La pretty fast, and like locusts do…they'll eat everything until it's all gone…and then they'll eat each other, and then they'll starve to death.
    Not too pleasant a thought…
    R. Gates

  5. Josh says:

    Indeed, the situation sounds dire and R. Gates has a point, the locusts will come. But perhaps there is a way to create a city so isolated and entirely self-sustaining that it would be virtually impossible to overwhelm?
    Suppose a city is built in the far northern Canadian Rockies? Any group of attacking individuals would require substantial sustenance just to make the journey there let alone overwhelm the inhabitants. And they certainly won't be organized enough to set up fixed supply lines. I mean seriously, by that time they won't have any supplies…right?
    The true challenge would be to make the city so remote as to render the swarm impotent; not through defenses but through isolation and natural physical boundaries. Sure the locusts will come, but perhaps only in small bands easily subsumed rather than vanquished.
    Of course, such a settlement would need to be started NOW. And it would require substantial investment which could potentially render its very existence too well known to succeed.
    And yet, I find that I must ask. Advances in medical technology have lead me to believe that (given continued access to technology) I might extend my personal lifetime far beyond the 70+ years currently predicted. If that is true then the impending collapse is not just the problem of some future generation…it is my own and I refuse to die on the streets of San Francisco in 10 or 20 or 50 or 100 years because I did not prepare.

  6. ewoc says:

    Escapist fantasies may make some feel better, but they ultimate won't do much except detract from efforts to salvage a livable planet, both for humans and other species.
    No place on earth is currently unreachable, and remote places will become less so over time. You can rent the Mad Max movies for entertainment if you choose, but I refuse to give the famous anti-semite and right wing kook Mel Gibson another penny.

  7. R. Gates says:

    I think the most important lesson here is the we're all a connected web, and that truly there is no escaping to some eco-Shangra La…we've got to do our best to prevent the worst from happening because truly we will all perish together if we don't get this right…

  8. Josh says:

    Ewoc, your insults are duly noted.
    I must say that I find your short-sightedness disheartening. We need to rebuild in a sustainable manner. The odds of being able to do so in-situ are very low. If you don't believe that just consider how many people are planning to vote for McCain in the upcoming US election. Inertia is incredibly strong.
    As a result, I strongly feel that we need to re-colonize this planet in areas which have a higher feasibility of being able to sustain life in a vastly heated environment. Why would we not attempt the initial attempts at building New Cities in remote northern areas?
    This would pose 2 primary benefits:
    1) New settlements in these areas stand the largest chance of long-term survival against climatic change.
    2) New settlements in these areas stand the largest chance of long-term survival against societal upheaval, violence and collapse.
    Again, mock me if you must, but I truly feel as though this is the best chance we have…both in the short and the long-term.

  9. R. Gates says:

    If one were to believe Lovelace (the man who coined the term “Gaia” in reference to the earth as living system), the final stages of humanity will find us clinging to the fringes of the arctic, but not in large cities, but small tribes. If civilization collapses, so too the technology of that civilzation. One need only see how the fall of Rome brought about the Dark Ages in Europe too see how human society can regress.
    Overall, I like your concept and spirit of eco-survivalism, but I wonder how feasible it would be to build a defensible city. Just as when Ghengis Kahn roamed
    Asia, you can believe that the collapse of civilzation would bring great warlike tribes, roaming vast reaches, raping, plunderng, and pretty much destroying all that lies in their path.
    R. Gates

  10. Josh says:

    I do not dispute that, should we get to an end-of-days scenario, it will matter little what types of structures we put in place to defend our selves. But, I fail to see how quoting someone else's theory (even one as esteemed as Lovelace) is somehow evidence against mine.
    Ewoc ridiculed me for suggesting efforts which he feels would be counterproductive to fighting the problem itself. I responded that, on the contrary, I believe that this approach positions us best for BOTH short and long-term survival while also providing for a model upon which to attempt sustainable reconstruction.
    Why would we not adopt a strategy which addresses our need for a reconstruction model to replace our failed non-sustainable paradigm while simultaneously putting ourselves in the most advantageous long-term position vis-a-vis both runaway climate change and the violence which would ensue in a post-societal collapse?
    Seriously, what other option do we have? I understand that if everything gets destroyed that means that I get destroyed as well. That is a simple act of logic. So what? I am done wallowing in despair. Why not act? And, if we do act, what actions should we take?
    If you don't accept my plan (or rather my proto-plan) then don't just tell me I'm wrong…give me a viable alternative. If you don't have a viable alternative then why bother arguing against me? Why not just kill yourselves now and save the modern-day Visigoths the trouble of killing you later?
    I know I'm going overboard here, but I'm just so sick of the defeatism.

  11. R. Gates says:

    I applaud any and all efforts to create a viable, sustainable, and green future. Such efforts are the only chance we have of survival…

  12. Josh says:

    BTW, the Gaia Hypothesis was posited by James Lovelock (

  13. Don't forget the ocean cycle in the Atlantic which, if it stops(or when it stops) will create an Ice Age for perhaps thousands of years, leaving the Earth mostly frozen.

  14. ewoc says:

    I was not trying to insult, but to point out that the kind of scenario you are suggesting we prepare for distracts from the very real actions that are necessary right now to avoid the worst of the tremendous suffering that is coming – for other species as well as humans.
    Energy spent fantasizing about the ultimate “get away” spot is energy not devoted to changing policies that matter.
    that's all I was trying to say……..

  15. Andrea Niedermann says:

    I would like to recommend the following books of the german scientist Herbert Girardet: Creating Sustainable Cities (2006)and: Surviving the Century – Facing Climate Chaos and other Global Challenges (2007).
    Perhaps it could help your discussion.

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