Methane meltdown: The Arctic timebomb that could cost us $60trn
THE AMAZON PINK DOLPHIN’S VOICE-26/07/2013
Methane meltdown: The Arctic timebomb that could cost us $60trn
Release of gas trapped for thousands of years beneath frozen permafrost of Arctic is one of the most dangerous ‘feedback’ consequences of rapid warming
The sudden release from the melting Arctic of vast quantities of methane – a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide –is an “economic time-bomb” that could explode at a cost of $60 trillion (£40tr) to the global economy, a study has concluded.
A scientific assessment of the costs associated with the release of Arctic methane into the atmosphere has found that the financial consequences to the world would almost equal the entire global economic output of one year.
Scientists and economists said that the release of methane trapped for thousands of years beneath the frozen permafrost of the Arctic is one of the most dangerous “feedback” consequences of the rapid warming of the region, which has seen sea ice diminish by more than a third since the 1970s.
Using the same computer models employed by the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, the researchers found that the effects on the global climate of a relatively sudden release of methane over a period of a decade or so could be catastrophic in terms of drought effects on crops, rising sea levels, coastal flooding and extreme weather.
“What we have got is an incredibly compelling set of data that the price tag of just this one feedback effect in present-value terms is $60tn. This is an economic time-bomb that at this stage has not been recognised on the global stage,” said Professor Gail Whiteman of Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
“Global leaders and the World Economic Forum and International Monetary Fund need to pay much more attention to this invisible time-bomb. The mean impacts of just this one effect – $60tn – approaches the $70tn value of the world economy in 2012,” said Professor Whiteman, the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.
The study used an economic model of the effects of climate change to evaluate the costs of the extra greenhouse-gas emissions on sea level, temperature, flood risk, health and extreme weather. The researchers ran the model 10,000 times and came to the average cost of $60tn, mostly borne over this century but also into the next.
Estimates of how much methane could be released from the Arctic were based on joint Russian-American expeditions to the East Siberian Sea where scientists have measured vast plumes of methane bubbling to the sea surface from underground deposits stored beneath the permafrost of the seabed, which extends under the sea because the continental shelf here is relatively shallow.
Russian scientists have calculated that there may be as much as 50 billion tonnes of methane locked away beneath the permafrost of the East Siberian Sea. Methane is about 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period and its sudden release could change the global climate significantly faster than current predictions, the scientists say.
For instance, a massive pulse of methane could bring forward by between 15 and 35 years the date when global average temperature exceed the “safe” limit of 2C above pre-industrial levels. This limit would be reached by 2035 if nothing is done to curb greenhouse gases or 2040 if emissions are lowered, the study found.
“We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate,” the researchers say.
“Much if the costs will be borne by developing countries, which will face extreme weather, poorer health and lower agricultural production as Arctic warming affects climate. All nations will be affected, not just those in the far north, and all should be concerned about changes occurring in this region,” they say.
The Independent revealed in 2008 that millions of tons of methane are being emitted each summer in the East Siberian Sea where the sea ice has receded. As the sea ice retreats, the sea beneath it begins to warm and the seabed permafrost melts, said Professor Peter Wadhams, an Arctic ice specialist at Cambridge University who was part of the study.
The average thickness of sea ice has fallen by a half (Rex)
“We are looking at a big effect, possibly a catastrophic effect on global climate that has been a consequence of this extremely fast sea-ice retreat we’ve seen in recent years,” Professor Wadhams said.
“We have an area of the world that used to be covered with sea ice all year round and which is now in the summer months becoming ice free. As long as sea ice was around in the summer the ocean underneath was kept down to a temperature of 0C or less because of the ice above it. But as soon as the ice is removed it exposes the ocean to intense radiation and the water warms up,” Professor Wadhams said.
“The water above the continental shelf of the Arctic has been warming up to several degrees during the summer months and because the water here is very shallow, especially over the East Siberian Sea, the melt has led to a warming of the seabed as well,” he said
“Huge plumes of methane gas have been detected by a series of experiments every summer. These methane plumes are increasing the methane in the atmosphere…We’ve seen methane increases in the atmosphere, the overall methane curve has started to rise and the place where this increase is happening most is in the Arctic,” Professor Wadhams said.
Sea ice Satellites have recorded a dramatic decline in the extent of the floating sea ice in the Arctic, where the loss has accelerated rapidly in recent years. Submarine measurements suggest that the average thickness of sea ice has fallen by a half. A rapid break up of sea ice in the summer months could occur within the next decade. (Picture credit: EPA )
Permafrost The permanently frozen tundra of the Arctic is melting rapidly. During summer months, vast areas of the Siberian permafrost become open pools of bog and water. As permafrost melts, methane is released from deeper layers, especially from the sub-seabed permafrost of the East Siberian Sea. (Picture credit: Rex)
Greenland ice sheet The ice sheet covering Greenland is two miles thick in places and it will take many centuries before it disappears. But last year Nasa recorded temporary summer melting over about 97 per cent of the ice sheet’s surface; and melting ice is less reflective, leading to more heat absorption and more melting. (Picture credit: AP)
…and the consequences
Superstorm Sandy, the recent floods in Germany and the extreme heat-waves in France in 2003 and in Moscow in 2010 are all examples of the sort of weather extremes that are predicted to increase in frequency in a warmer world. The economic and health costs of extreme weather are incalculable. Costs from superstorm Sandy are estimated to be in the range of $25bn (£16.7bn), second only to the estimated costs of Hurricane Katrina, the most expensive storm damage in recent history. (Picture credit: Getty)
The rate of average sea-level rise has increased in recent years, mostly as a result of thermal expansion caused by warmer oceans but also because of melting mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets. About 10 million people a year are currently affected by coastal flooding, and that figure is likely to triple even without further rises in sea level as more people migrate to coastal megacities, such as Dhaka in Bangladesh. Sea-level rise is one the most important economic issues of the modern era given that in Europe alone some 70 million people live near the coastline, where assets are worth between £500bn and £1,000bn. (Picture credit: Getty)
Many areas of the developing world, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa such as the semi-arid Sahel, are already under extreme water stress, making crop cultivation extremely precarious. In a warmer world, scientists expect these dry areas to become drier, making farming impossible and causing the mass migration of people who cannot grow their own food or raise their own livestock. (Picture credit: Getty)
Source: The Independent
Arctic Methane Release Due To Climate Change Could Cost Global Economy $60 Trillion, Study Reports
Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Erasmus University in the Netherlands used economic modelling to calculate the consequences of a release of a 50-gigatonne reservoir of methane from thawing permafrost under the East Siberian Sea.
They examined a scenario in which there is a release of methane over a decade as global temperatures rise at their current pace.
They also looked at lower and slower releases, yet all produced “steep” economic costs stemming from physical changes to the Arctic.
“The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb,” said Gail Whiteman, an author of the report and professor of sustainability, management and climate change at the Rotterdam School of Management, part of Erasmus University.
“In the absence of climate-change mitigation measures, the model calculates that it would increase mean global climate impacts by $60 trillion,” said Chris Hope, a reader in policy modelling at the Cambridge Judge Business School, part of the University of Cambridge.
That approaches the value of the global economy, which was around $70 trillion last year.
The costs could be even greater if other factors such as ocean acidification were included, the study said, or reduced to some $37 trillion if action is taken to lower emissions.
As much as 80 percent of the costs would likely be borne by developing countries experiencing more extreme weather, flooding, droughts and poorer health as the Arctic melt affects the global climate, the paper said.
Methane is a greenhouse gas usually trapped as methane hydrate in sediment beneath the seabed. As temperatures rise, the hydrate breaks down and methane is released from the seabed, mostly dissolving into the seawater.
But if trapped methane were to break the sea surface and escape into the atmosphere, it could “speed up sea-ice retreat, reduce the reflection of solar energy and accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet,” the study said.
It said that could bring forward the date at which the global mean temperature rise exceeds 2 degrees Celsius by between 15 and 35 years – to 2035 if no action is taken to curb emissions and to 2040 if enough action is taken to have a 50 percent chance of keeping the rise below 2 degrees.
Scientists have said the rise in global average temperatures this century needs to stay below 2 degrees Celsius to prevent devastating climate effects such as crop failure and melting glaciers.
However, the International Energy Agency warned last month that the world is on course for a rise of 3.6 to 5.3 degrees Celsius citing record high global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions last year.
The Arctic has oil and gas reserves which Lloyd’s of London has estimated could draw investment of up to $100 billion within a decade. Environmentalists warn Arctic drilling is too risky and could have devastating consequences for the region. (Editing by Jason Neely)
Source: HUFF POST
‘Rivers of rain’ to make severe floods twice as likely by end of century
Severe winter flooding in Britain could become twice as likely by the end of the century because rising global temperatures are increasing the chances of huge “atmospheric rivers” that transport massive volumes of water vapour in the air.
The sort of flooding that devastated Cumbria and parts of southern Scotland in November 2009, when more than a foot of rain fell in less than three days, is set to increase dramatically in the coming decades, scientists have predicted.
Warmer air is able to hold more water vapour which under certain weather conditions can form vast plumes or “rivers” in the atmosphere that can result in continual, heavy downpours over one spot of high ground, the scientists said.
The phenomenon, known as an atmospheric river, is one of the most common causes of flooding in Britain, especially during winter months when the ground is already saturated and there is little evaporation, said David Lavers of the University of Iowa.
The 2009 flood in Cumbria, which cut Workington in half, killed a police officer when a road bridge collapsed and flooded the town of Cockermouth under two feet of water, was the result of an atmospheric river carrying a volume of water equivalent to 4,500 times the average flow of the River Thames, Dr Lavers said.
Rescue workers in the Lake District during the severe flooding in 2009 (Getty)
A study has found that atmospheric rivers over Britain will become more frequent and intense as global temperatures rise this century in response to increasing concentrations of man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, he said.
“Atmospheric rivers could become stronger in terms of their moisture transport. In a warming world, atmospheric water vapour content is expected to rise … with air temperature. This is likely to result in increased water vapour transport,” Dr Lavers said.
“The link between atmospheric rivers and flooding is already well established, so an increase in the frequency of atmospheric rivers is likely to lead to an increased number of heavy winter rainfall events and flood,” he said.
“More intense atmospheric rivers are likely to lead to higher rainfall totals, and thus larger flood events,” said Dr Lavers, the lead author of the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, with his colleagues at the University of Reading.
The scientists analysed the frequency and intensity of atmospheric rivers using five different computer simulations of future climate scenarios, each based on different predictions of future carbon dioxide emissions.
“There were two things that came out of this. One was that the amount of water vapour transported by atmospheric rivers is likely to increase, and the other was that the more extreme atmospheric rivers look likely to become more frequent,” Dr Lavers said.
In the worst-case scenario, where nothing is done to curb carbon dioxide emissions, the number of extreme atmospheric rivers carrying the biggest overall volumes of water doubled in frequency over Britain, he said.
“These things are persistent in space and time and the one that caused the 2009 flooding in Cumbria sat over one point in the Lake District for a day or more,” Dr Lavers said.
Some areas of high ground in the Lake District received more than 400 millimetres (1.3 feet) of rainfall over 72 hours. Seathwaite in Cumbria recorded 316mm of rainfall in less than 24 hours, as a south-westerly airstream from the Atlantic brought exceptional “conveyor belt” rain to the region.
Atmospheric rivers have been linked with some of the worst flooding in recent times, such as the floods in Britain of last summer and winter which are estimated to have caused some £1bn worth of damage
Although these rivers in the air are relatively narrow bands of intense water vapour, about 300km (186 miles) wide, they can extend for thousands of kilometres in length, sometimes reaching across almost the entire length of the North Atlantic.
At their densest points, these atmospheric rivers can carry water vapour at a rate of more than 1,250 kilograms per metre per second – several thousand times the flow of the largest terrestrial rivers – but at a height of about 1km above ground.
Dr Lavers said that the warming of the atmosphere due to increased emissions of carbon dioxide from industrial sources increase the chances of bigger atmospheric rivers because of the simple thermodynamic fact that warmer air can carry more water vapour.
“Our analysis demonstrates that under current change scenarios, the strongest atmospheric rivers are projected to become more intense and, for any given intensity threshold, more frequent, indicating an intensification of precipitation extremes,” the study concludes.
As a result, flooding in parts of Britain during winter months will become more frequent and more intense compared to the past few decades.
Dr Lavers said that the findings could be used by the Environment Agency to make more accurate assessments of the future flood risks to parts of the UK.
Source: The Independent
Editorial: SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras
Gustavo López Ospina
Pieter Jan Brouwer
Assistant: Emilia Romero
The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice is associated with the International Environmental Mission, a grass roots citizens movement created by Chilean Senator Juan Pablo Letelier.
SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer.