It amazes me how the media take a non-story and inflate it into a “climate time-bomb”.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung has an interview today with Dr. Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten, a director at the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), who has been studying the permafrost in Siberia for 20 years now. Not surprisingly he sees signs of some permafrost melt – and why not? After all the globe has warmed about 0.6°C over the last 100 years.
In the interview Hubberten speaks about the scenario of massive permafrost melt and the implications such a scenario would have, but then reminds us that in reality the permafrost is thawing only very slowly, and so it’s no big deal. So what does the media focus on? On the horror scenarios of course, and not the reality.
One of the favorite horror scenarios floated out by AGW alarmists is sub-marine permafrost melt and the associated release of huge quantities of potent greenhouse gas methane, which then could lead to the much dreaded, yet elusive, tipping point.
Hubberten points out that there are 36 million square km of permafrost, which is equal to 25% the size of the earth’s land surface. Much of it lies below the Arctic ocean. The thickness ranges from a couple of meters to 1600 meters in some spots in Siberia. Of course warming and cooling of the climate leads to corresponding changes in the permafrost over time.
Here are some of Hubberten comments on melting permafrost:
1. Impact on sea levels:
It could by the end of the century lead to an additional global sea level rise of a few centimeters. Therefore the permafrost must be studied with the same seriousness as melting glaciers and sea ice.
This is a not so subtle call for lots more funding.
2. Is the permafrost thawing? According to Hubberten (paraphrasing):
In some areas in Russia within 50 years it has gotten about 20 cm thicker. Right now in treeless regions the upper 50 or 60 cm layer is thawing. In the forested southern permafrost region up to 5 to 6 meters. The permafrost is warming also at greater depths where temperatures over the entire year range from -5°C to -20°C. We have exact measurements in Alaska for example. At a depth of 20 meters it has warmed 1.5″C over the last 35 years.”
Some places it’s thicker, some places thinner, and some places it is less cold. That shouldn’t be a surprise though because the planet has warmed a bit over the last century. So not really that much has happened.
3. What does Hubberten think about the possibility of a massive methane gas eruption from rapidly thawing permafrost (paraphrasing – emphasis added)?
Much is speculated on this ‘methane climate time-bomb’. In a sceanrio where there is a rapid and complete disintegration of the sub-marine permafrost, there could indeed be a huge methane release into the atmosphere, and from that a considerable global temperature increase from a greenhouse effect. In reality we assume, however, that there is a relatively slow reduction of the submarine permafrost – with a possible slight addition of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.”
Hubberten then throws his pitch for more funding, again, adding:
But, the sub-marine permafrost and the methane gas hydrates are still mostly not researched and with today’s level of knowledge it is a big factor of uncertainty in the climate system.”
In the end we can safely say that all the permafrost warnings will likely turn out to be like the UN 50-million-refugee-predictions we have all been hearing about the last few days.