Icebergs, phytoplankton, and CO2 – negative feedback

Iceberg-Antarctica

Image via Wikipedia

Via Lewis Page at the Register:

Some cheerful news on the climate change front today, as US government boffins report that ice breaking off the Antarctic shelves and melting in the sea causes carbon dioxide to be removed from the environment. This powerful, previously unknown “negative feedback” would seem likely to revise forecasts of future global warming significantly downwards.

“These new findings… confirm that icebergs contribute yet another, previously unsuspected, dimension of physical and biological complexity to polar ecosystems,” says Roberta Marinelli, director of the NSF’s Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program.

Full story here Also, from the National Science Foundation, a potential negative feedback as icebergs boost phytoplankton, removing more CO2 during the process.

Antarctic Icebergs Play a Previously Unknown Role in Global Carbon Cycle, Climate

Passage of icebergs through surface waters changes their physical and biological characteristics

In a finding that has global implications for climate research, scientists have discovered that when icebergs cool and dilute the seas through which they pass for days, they also raise chlorophyll levels in the water that may in turn increase carbon dioxide absorption in the Southern Ocean.

An interdisciplinary research team supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) highlighted the research this month in the journal Nature Geosciences.

The research indicates that “iceberg transport and melting have a role in the distribution of phytoplankton in the Weddell Sea,” which was previously unsuspected, said John J. Helly, director of the Laboratory for Environmental and Earth Sciences with the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Helly was the lead author of the paper, “Cooling, Dilution and Mixing of Ocean Water by Free-drifting Icebergs in the Weddell Sea,” which was first published in the journal Deep-Sea Research Part II.

The results indicate that icebergs are especially likely to influence phytoplankton dynamics in an area known as “Iceberg Alley,” east of the Antarctic Peninsula, the portion of the continent that extends northwards toward Chile.

The latest findings add a new dimension to previous research by the same team that altered the perception of icebergs as large, familiar, but passive, elements of the Antarctic seascape. The team previously showed that icebergs act, in effect, as ocean “oases” of nutrients for aquatic life and sea birds.

The teams’s research indicates that ordinary icebergs are likely to become more prevalent in the Southern Ocean, particularly as the Antarctic Peninsula continues a well-documented warming trend and ice shelves disintegrate. Research also shows that these ordinary icebergs are important features of not only marine ecosystems, but even of global carbon cycling.

“These new findings amplify the team’s previous discoveries about icebergs and confirm that icebergs contribute yet another, previously unsuspected, dimension of physical and biological complexity to polar ecosystems,” said Roberta L. Marinelli, director of the NSF’s Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program.

NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, through which it coordinates all U.S. scientific research and related logistics on the southernmost continent and aboard ships in the Southern Ocean.

The latest findings document a persistent change in physical and biological characteristics of surface waters after the transit of an iceberg, which has important effects on phytoplankton populations, clearly demonstrating “that icebergs influence oceanic surface waters and mixing to greater extents than previously realized,” said Ronald S. Kaufmann, associate professor of marine science and environmental studies at the University of San Diego and one of the authors of the paper.

The researchers studied the effects by sampling the area around a large iceberg more than 32 kilometers (20 miles) long; the same area was surveyed again ten days later, after the iceberg had drifted away.

After ten days, the scientists observed increased concentrations of chlorophyll a and reduced concentrations of carbon dioxide, as compared to nearby areas without icebergs. These results are consistent with the growth of phytoplankton and the removal of carbon dioxide from the ocean.

The new results demonstrate that icebergs provide a connection between the geophysical and biological domains that directly affects the carbon cycle in the Southern Ocean, Marinelli added.

In 2007, the same team published findings in the journal Science that icebergs serve as “hotspots” for ocean life with thriving communities of seabirds above and a web of phytoplankton, krill and fish below. At that time, the researchers reported that icebergs hold trapped terrestrial material, which they release far out at sea as they melt, a process that produces a “halo effect” with significantly increased nutrients and krill out to a radius of more than three kilometers (two miles).

The new research was conducted as part of a multi-disciplinary project that also involved scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, University of South Carolina, University of Nevada, Reno, University of South Carolina, Brigham Young University, and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography research biologist Maria Vernet and graduate student Gordon Stephenson also contributed to the paper.

-NSF-

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Keith Minto

Negative feedback AND glaciers growing,
If the phytoplankton-boosting effect of the bergs is as big as the NSF appears to be suggesting, however, it would seem that any carbon-driven temperature rise could be at least partly self-correcting.
Increased iceberg shedding would seem likely to be seen mainly or only around the western peninsula: antarctic sea ice shelves elsewhere are actually growing, not shrinking, and at such a rate as to outweigh the peninsular losses. The past three decades have seen the south-polar ice sheets grow by 300,000 square kilometres overall.

To complete the trifecta, Pine Island glacier melt not due to Climate Change.
Have to pinch myself, after all, it is still April 1 here.

Andy G

Ain’t Mother Nature grand.
The ultimate balancing act .

Andy G

For the religious..
He knew we were coming
He knew we would need energy so he buried a whole heap of carbon for us to use later.
He also arranged it so that bringing that carbon back to the surface would not cause too many problems (except in the minds of the gullible)

Leon Brozyna

So much for the science being settled.
Wonder how many other surprises they’ll find over the next few decades.
Heck, before you know it they’ll come up with a new computer model that shows that mankind’s impact on the climate is only a minor and insignificant wiggle on the cyclical climate changes.

SteveE

Interesting idea, any figures on how much CO2 they are likely to trap by the increasing melting caused by global warming?
It’s refreshing to see an article on this blog that suggests there is a connection between CO2 and global warming though.
Well done!

John Marshall

And it has now been discovered that the ocean ridge system, home to the world’s most extensive volcanic chain some 40,000 miles long, produces more CO2 than previously thought. Volumes up to an order of magnitude more!
So our production of CO2 from fossil fuel use, estimated as some 3% of the total annual production has now been reduced to below 3%. In fact really nothing to worry about.

But surely the robust computer models that all scientest agrre on, already had this feedback effect factored in?
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Seems like there are plenty more “unknown unknowns” yet to find.

Terry

There must be a MODEL for that surely. Get the Fortran code book and find out what’s wrong.

SteveE

John Marshall
Who discovered that then and where is the supporting evidence please?
As humans emit about 100 times the amount that volcanos emit I don’t think that’s really going to change much, or where the measurable increase in CO2 in the atmosphere has come from.
Nice try though.

MangoChutney

@SteveE
It’s refreshing to see an article on this blog that suggests there is a connection between CO2 and global warming though.
Steve,
I think you will find that nobody doubts there is a connection between CO2 and global warming. The question is how significant – read up on climate sensitivity before replying
/Mango
I don’t dent climate change, I know climate changes

jmrSudbury

The CO2 levels have been increasing for decades according to measurements at Mauna Loa. This is article shows a neat idea, but it does not seem like it has a huge affect. — John M Reynolds

sophocles

Gee shucks—so the cooling effect of the ice-berg increase CO2 absorbtion. Wow—U would never have guessed! Isn’t that one of the reasons we keep fizzy drinks in the refrigerator?

Terry

John Marshall
“And it has now been discovered that the ocean ridge system, home to the world’s most extensive volcanic chain some 40,000 miles long, produces more CO2 than previously thought. Volumes up to an order of magnitude more!”
I would also like to see that study. Do you have a link for it.

SteveE

MangoChutney says:
April 1, 2011 at 1:59 am
I’m quite aware of climate sensitivity, but the general view on here is that CO2 has very little if any noticable effect. This article suggests that there is enough of an effect to increase the melting of the ice bergs but this will then act as a CO2 sink. I’d imagine you’d need a hell of a lot of melts though to off set 29 billion tonnes of CO2 that man emits into the atmosphere each year.
I don’t know for sure as this article doesn’t provide any numbers but I can’t imagine it’s going to be much.

Darren Parker

391.76 is the reading for february co2 at mauna lua. the chart on teh side has 390.3

SteveE

Murray Grainger says:
April 1, 2011 at 1:34 am
Seems like there are plenty more “unknown unknowns” yet to find.
———
Indeed, how many positive feed backs are there that we are unaware of?

SteveE
Yep, there could be more positive feedbacks. Could be more negative feedbacks. As you are pointing out, the science ain’t settled.
That said, this article seems as full of “may”s and “likely”s as any other climate article.
My own computer model (Sim City) says Tokyo is due to be hit by Godzilla soon.

bruce

Probably not a high level of impact on Global atmospheric CO2, respecting the cited study. This work seems more characteristic along expected lines of the incremental back-tracking (face-saving) that will be seen in various scientific institutions over the next decade or so over this issue. A decade or two after that you will get a more rational perspective. These are just the typical limits of humans trying to do a difficult thing called science under conditions which impair objectivity, including conflicts of interest and political influences. Expect more baby steps.

SteveE

Frank Lee MeiDere says:
April 1, 2011 at 3:38 am
————-
hehe, it never rains but it pours!

Roger Knights

jmrSudbury says:
April 1, 2011 at 2:05 am
The CO2 levels have been increasing for decades according to measurements at Mauna Loa. This is article shows a neat idea, but it does not seem like it has a huge affect. — John M Reynolds

It’s a negative feedback whose impact will grow as global warming increases. That’s why its impact has been minor so far.

Jimbo

Think Gaia.
There is not going to be any runaway warming caused by man-made greenhouse gases.
http://erg.ucd.ie/arupa/references/gaia.html
http://www.theresilientearth.com/

Jimbo

@SteveE
It’s refreshing to see an article on this blog that suggests there is a connection between CO2 and global warming though.

From my understanding increased co2 does lead to some warming. Can you let me know how much warming it has been responsible for since 1980? Before you begin please read the following first.

“Ensemble reconstruction constraints on the global carbon cycle sensitivity to climate”
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7280/full/nature08769.html
“Amplification of Global Warming by Carbon-Cycle Feedback Significantly Less Than Thought, Study Suggests”
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100127134721.htm
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7280/full/nature08769.html

Dr. James Hansen et. al.2000
“A common view is that the current global warming rate will continue or accelerate. But we argue that rapid warming in recent decades has been driven mainly by non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as chlorofluorocarbons, CH4, and N2O, not by the products of fossil fuel burning, CO2 and aerosols, the positive and negative climate forcings of which are partially offsetting.”

Dr. James Hansen et. al.2003
“Plausible estimates for the effect of soot on snow and ice albedos (1.5% in the Arctic and 3% in Northern Hemisphere land areas) yield a climate forcing of +0.3 W/m2 in the Northern Hemisphere. The “efficacy” of this forcing is ~2, i.e., for a given forcing it is twice as effective as CO2 in altering global surface air temperature.”

Dr. Phil Jones email – July, 2005
“The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK it has but it is only 7 years of data and it isn’t statistically significant.”

Dr. Kevin Trenberth – October, 2009
“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

Dr. Phil Jones interview – February, 2010
Roger Harrabin – “Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming”
Phil Jones – “Yes, but only just.”

Richard M

SteveE says:
April 1, 2011 at 3:29 am
Indeed, how many positive feed backs are there that we are unaware of?

For a system to last as long as Earth’s climate it’s pretty obvious to thinking people that there can’t be significant positive feedbacks

Does anyone have a clear and easy to understand graph/table that illustrates at what temperature/circumstances absorption of Co2 in sea water becomes outgasing?
I read somewhere that 26 degrees C is the opitimal temperature of sea water for maximum outgassing and that 7ppm of co2 are released for each 1 degree of ocean temperature increase (and presumably the other way round).
The temperatures of the sea around our part of the UK range from a low in a cold winter of 5C (more normally 8C) up to a maximum -if we are really lucky- of 20C (more usually 17C) in the summer. This depends greatly on the depth of the ocean.
So is the UK constantly outgassing or constantly absorbing or a mixture of the two?
tonyb

Tonyb,
I don’t suppose this is exactly what you’re asking for, but it’s what I have:
http://icecap.us/images/uploads/Focus_0808_endersbee.pdf
http://www.biomind.de/realCO2/bilder/CO2-MBL-SST.pdf

SteveE

Richard M says:
April 1, 2011 at 4:50 am
I suggest you have a think about that what ended the last ice age then and try telling me there’s no significant positive feedbacks.

SteveE

Jimbo says:
April 1, 2011 at 4:15 am
If you’d like to finish off one of those quotes…
Phil Jones:
“Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.”
Phil Jones: “I’m 100% confident that the climate has warmed. As to the second question, I would go along with IPCC Chapter 9 – there’s evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity.”
The fact that you’re quoting him like that shows a poor understanding of the scientific concepts behind his words.
I’m not sure about 1980, but 1995 to 2009 was 0.11C per decade acording to HadCRUT and 0.15C per decade for NASA GISS.
What do you think it is then?

1DandyTroll

@SteveE
“As humans emit about 100 times the amount that volcanos emit I don’t think that’s really going to change much, or where the measurable increase in CO2 in the atmosphere has come from.”
I believe that is naught but akin to religious dogma.
The amount of CO2 released from volcanoes each year is only from about 70 known (per year) surface volcanoes. The best guestimate is that there’s been about 1500 active surface volcanoes during the last 10 000 years.
The number of active submarine volcanoes seem to be between 10 000 and 1 000 000. According to one survey they apparently found 200 000 submarine volcanoes from which they extrapolated up to over three million. So it’s still anyones guess it would seem as to whether humans emit more or less than the volcanoes does. Neither surface nor submarine calculations seem to include simple vents and hot springs and what not.
If the submarine variety has an equal eruption percentage as the surface variety you get about 10 000 submarine volcanoes erupting each year (if one uses that survey of 200 000 submarine volcanoes.)
But like I said no body seem to know so taking a propaganda statement and turning it into facts is akin to spewing religious dogma.

Ian W

SteveE says:
April 1, 2011 at 5:31 am
Richard M says:
April 1, 2011 at 4:50 am
I suggest you have a think about that what ended the last ice age then and try telling me there’s no significant positive feedbacks.

You appear to be making the assumption that ‘feedback’ to warming is constant. This is not shown in nature. In the hydrologic cycle the initial water vapor evaporated into dry air will produce a positive feedback but then as it becomes cloud it raises the albedo which is a negative feedback and then with convection increasing the transport of heat as latent heat above the denser ‘ghg’ (sic) layers of the atmosphere another negative feedback and the albedo of the tops of towering storms provide strong negative forcing.
The idea that the atmospheric ‘feedback’ is a constant is totally illogical and not borne out by any observations.

SteveE

1DandyTroll says:
April 1, 2011 at 5:50 am
I think you’re the one believing the propaganda!
“Do the Earth’s volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities? Research findings indicate that the answer to this frequently asked question is a clear and unequivocal, “No.” Human activities, responsible for some 36,300 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2008 [Le Quéré et al., 2009], release at least a hundred times more CO2 annually than all the world’s degassing subaerial and submarine volcanoes (Gerlach, 2010).”
“In recent times, about 50-60 volcanoes are normally active on the Earth’s subaerial terrain. One of these is Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii, which has an annual baseline CO2 output of about 3.1 million metric tons per year [Gerlach et al., 2002]. It would take a huge addition of volcanoes to the subaerial landscape—the equivalent of an extra 11,700 Kīlauea volcanoes—to scale up the global volcanic CO2 emission rate to the anthropogenic CO2 emission rate. Similarly, scaling up the volcanic rate to the current anthropogenic rate by adding more submarine volcanoes would require the addition of over 100 mid-oceanic ridge systems to the sea floor.”
From the US Geological Survey. I’m pretty sure they know a thing or two about volcanos.

Steve from Rockwood

@Terry
10 WARMING = WARMING + MOREWARMING
GOTO 10

Richard M

SteveE says:
April 1, 2011 at 5:31 am
Richard M says:
April 1, 2011 at 4:50 am
I suggest you have a think about that what ended the last ice age then and try telling me there’s no significant positive feedbacks.

OK, you tell me what ended the last ice age. No, probablies allowed!
As for positive feedbacks we are talking about today. So, show me where there are lots of positive feedbacks. Even Arctic amplification is now questionable in terms of significance. We’ve had 100+ years of CO2 emissions, why haven’t these feedbacks kicked in?

Bruce Cobb

Well, it is April 1. The phytoplankton can only be boosted to the extent that iron is available. Also, the only way they can remove C02 is by dying and falling to the sea floor, but many will be eaten by copepods, then by ampipods, thus simply recycling the C02. And finally, whatever tiny warming any C02 that is thusly removed would be so small as to be irrelevant. These government “scientists” are quite the jokesters.

Mike

@ Jimbo says: April 1, 2011 at 4:15 am
Jimbo,
Nice work. However, if you are making the case that we need not mitigate GHG emissions I don’t think you have succeed. Estimates of different forcings will change, but not all in the negative direction. The potential permafrost feedback is to me a big concern.
” Thawing Permafrost Likely Will Accelerate Global Warming, Study Finds
ScienceDaily (Feb. 17, 2011) — Up to two-thirds of Earth’s permafrost likely will disappear by 2200 as a result of warming temperatures, unleashing vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, says a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.”
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110216132100.htm
For Hansen’s point, he is arguing for a more nuanced mitigation strategy. The reduction in CFC emissions because of the Montreal Protocal has slowed global warming, according the Hansen, from 0.17C/decade to 0.15C/decade, if I remember right. The reduction of black soot can also be a very positive step. But, in the long run CO2 is much more persistent and we will have to reduce that or face dangerous climate change in the coming decades. And then there is the ocean acidification issue. So, let’s do as Hansen suggests fight human caused climate change on as many fronts as we can.

SteveE

Richard M says:
April 1, 2011 at 6:38 am
When the Earth comes out of an ice age, the warming is not initiated by CO2 but by changes in the Earth’s orbit. The warming causes the oceans to give up CO2. The CO2 amplifies the warming and mixes through the atmosphere, spreading warming throughout the planet.

SteveE

Ian W says:
April 1, 2011 at 6:23 am
I totally agree, that’s why the world isn’t an oven after coming out of the last ice age, the increase from every round of feedback gets smaller and smaller, in the case of the enhanced greenhouse effect. It is a significant factor in the overall warming, but it does NOT lead to a “runaway” trajectory for temperature.

Richard M

SteveE says:
April 1, 2011 at 7:13 am
Richard M says:
April 1, 2011 at 6:38 am
When the Earth comes out of an ice age, the warming is not initiated by CO2 but by changes in the Earth’s orbit. The warming causes the oceans to give up CO2. The CO2 amplifies the warming and mixes through the atmosphere, spreading warming throughout the planet.

SteveE, you just regurgitated the Milankovitch theory. You did leave out that initial glacial melting reduces albedo. However, your problem is this is a theory and does not match historic records in all cases. In other words … it is not yet proven to be fact, or at least there seems to be several other factors that influence the change.
Here’s something to think about. Since the early onset glaciers destroyed lots of forest and vegetation, why didn’t CO2 increase and stop the spread of glaciers? Hint … think water vapor.
I’m not surprised you believe it to be fact. Your posts continue to show you generally repeat things you’ve read without much critical thinking applied. I think this is about as unskeptical as one can get and demonstrates why you believe in CAGW.
Most skeptics do not accept anything at face value. The fact that 80% of all peer reviewed science is shown to be wrong after just 25 years puts you on very shaky ground. (from a peer reviewed study)

Latitude

Only new scientists can discover new things….
…that are just common knowledge and common sense to everyone else
How can they complain about soot, dust, etc melting ice…
..and not make the connection that it’s fertilizer

SteveE says:
April 1, 2011 at 3:29 am

Murray Grainger says:
April 1, 2011 at 1:34 am
Seems like there are plenty more “unknown unknowns” yet to find.
———
Indeed, how many positive feed backs are there that we are unaware of?

The Global Warming scare is based on strong positive feedbacks. Without them, the ‘problem’ is a non-problem.
When the world has heated in the past, for example the MWP and RWP, the result was twofold. Firstly we benefited, and secondly there was no runaway warming.
The conclusion it is fair and reasonable to derive from this, is that these postulated positive feedbacks just do not exist. The fact that the world has not started continued warming is a verification of this, from real data, not models.
So, the answer is, there are no positive feedbacks in any evidence we have.

@SteveE
It’s a good argument: It warmed since the last ice age, therefore CO2 is to blame!
The trouble is, the logic is seriously flawed in so many ways. It is only ‘true’ to someone of ‘faith’. Hard evidence is required, and it just does not exist.

Thanks Smokey
Both are interesting but not quite what I’m looking for. Everything is always expressed as an anomaly when what I’m after are the actual ocean temperatures when co2 changes from absorption to outgasing.
tonyb
Tonyb

George E. Smith

“”””” Some cheerful news on the climate change front today, as US government boffins report that ice breaking off the Antarctic shelves and melting in the sea causes carbon dioxide to be removed from the environment. This powerful, previously unknown “negative feedback” would seem likely to revise forecasts of future global warming significantly downwards. “””””
Simply not a true statement; “”””” This powerful, previously unknown “negative feedback” “””””
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have mentioned here at WUWT how the freezing of water, such as the Arctic Ocean sea water, for example; but actually any kind of water, results in the exclusion of salts, and dissolved gases such as CO2 , and that the subsequent melting of large amounts of ice (in the oceans) including land based glacial ice, laid down maybe millions of years ago then permits that fresh water to then take up CO2 from the atmosphere as dictated by Henry’s Law, thus removing large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.
The annual Arctic ocean ice melt is accompanied by a local drop in atmospheric CO2 by 18 ppm in about a 5 month period. I don’t necessarily ascribe all of that to the ice melt; but it is interesting that all this takes place far north of the tree line or even the tundra line; there isn’t anything there except ice to melt.
So don’t try to tell me this is a previously unknown effect; be honest and admit you are just ignorant of what all discussion of the effect has taken place (addressed to the paper’s Authors). It’s time you broadened your base of scientific literature to read.

S.E.Hendriksen

Melting icebergs (freshwater) are responsible for about 25-30% of the carbon sink in the Arctic seas and melting sea ice and icebergs are also fertiliser for the phytoplankton… I guess it happends in the Southern waters too.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

From Mike on April 1, 2011 at 6:58 am:

” Thawing Permafrost Likely Will Accelerate Global Warming, Study Finds
ScienceDaily (Feb. 17, 2011) — Up to two-thirds of Earth’s permafrost likely will disappear by 2200 as a result of warming temperatures, unleashing vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, says a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.”

Wow, it’s all the way out to 2200 now. But the thawing permafrost has long been touted as A Major Tipping Point that will lead to Runaway Global Warming!
Sample:
http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/discoveries/2006-09-06-permafrost-warming_x.htm

Scientists find new global warming threat from melting permafrost
Updated 9/6/2006 3:35 PM ET
By Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — New research is raising concerns that global warming may be triggering a self-perpetuating climate time bomb trapped in once-frozen permafrost.
As the Earth warms, greenhouse gases once stuck in the long-frozen soil are bubbling into the atmosphere in much larger amounts than previously anticipated, according to a study in Thursday’s journal Nature.
Methane trapped in a special type of permafrost is bubbling up at a rate five times faster than originally measured, the journal said.
Scientists are fretting about a global warming vicious cycle that had not been part of their already gloomy climate forecasts: Warming already underway thaws permafrost, soil that had been continuously frozen for thousands of years.
Thawed permafrost releases methane and carbon dioxide. Those gases reach the atmosphere and help trap heat on Earth in the greenhouse effect. The trapped heat thaws more permafrost, and so on.
“The higher the temperature gets, the more permafrost we melt, the more tendency it is to become a more vicious cycle,” said Chris Field, director of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “That’s the thing that is scary about this whole thing. There are lots of mechanisms that tend to be self-perpetuating and relatively few that tends to shut it off.”

Another study earlier this summer in the journal Science found that the amount of carbon trapped in this type of permafrost — called yedoma — is much more prevalent than originally thought and may be 100 times the amount of carbon released into the air each year by the burning of fossil fuels.
It won’t all come out at once or even over several decades, but the methane and carbon dioxide will escape the soil if temperatures increase, scientists say.

“It’s kind of like a slow-motion time bomb,” said Ted Schuur, a professor of ecosystem ecology at the University of Florida and co-author of the Science study. “There’s these big surprises out there that we don’t even know about.”

What makes this permafrost special is that during a rapid onset ice age, carbon-rich plants were trapped in the permafrost. As the permafrost thaws, the carbon is released as methane if it’s underwater in lakes, like much of the parts of Siberia that Walter studied. If it’s dry, it’s released into the air as carbon dioxide.
Scientists aren’t quite sure which is worse. Methane is far more powerful in trapping heat, but only lasts about a decade before it dissipates into carbon dioxide and other chemicals. Carbon dioxide traps heat for about a century.
“The bottom line is it’s better if it stays frozen in the ground,” Schuur said. “But we’re getting to the point where it’s going more and more into the atmosphere.”

The self-perpetuating climate time bomb currently is thought to only result in 2/3 of the permafrost thawing by 2200? Given the expected rapidly-accelerating catastrophic effects, guess all of it will be gone by 2220. And after that, we are all screwed, there’ll never be anyway the climate can ever recover from such dramatic sudden carbon releases. We Are All Doomed.
Although, for some reason, we are now not all doomed until around 2200. From the way the permafrost thaw was hyped up on a PBS show I once saw, for ordinary permafrost in general, I thought we were all doomed by 2020. Thus this is a significant improvement, and without humanity doing anything at all (except releasing even more fossil carbon into the atmosphere).
BTW, I have a question after reading that Pulitzer-grade writing by Seth Borenstein. What happens to the tired old carbon dioxide that can no longer trap heat after about a century? Does it settle down at the Old Carbon Retirement Home?

eadler

Measurements made by commercial trading ships over a decade, show that absorption of CO2 by oceans has halved between the mid 1990’s and 2000 to 2005.
http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/sci-tech/co2-emission-absorption-by-oceans-have-halved-in-the-last-decade_1002196.html
Of course commercial ships will stay away from icebergs. This raises the question of how much ocean is covered by icebergs. I suspect the answer is an insignificant proportion. Of course most CO2 absorption takes place in colder ocean water.
The southern ocean is where a lot of CO2 gets absorbed. In fact absorption of CO2 there has been decreasing, and the reason is that the Ozone hole has created a more windy environment, which reduces the absorption of CO2.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17385-ozone-hole-has-unforeseen-effect-on-ocean-carbon-sink.html
Unexpected phenomena are being discovered which go both ways as far as the CO2 balance is concerned.

u.k.(us)

eadler says:
April 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm
….”and the reason is that the Ozone hole has created a more windy environment,…”
=========
Please supply the data to support this statement.

Dr. Dave in Dayton

John Marshall says: April 1, 2011 at 1:23 am
And it has now been discovered that the ocean ridge system, home to the world’s most extensive volcanic chain some 40,000 miles long, produces more CO2 than previously thought. Volumes up to an order of magnitude more!
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SteveE says: April 1, 2011 at 1:51 am
Who discovered that then and where is the supporting evidence please?
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Try this link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42378550/ns/technology_and_science-science/.

Laurence M. Sheehan, PE

So when, exactly, did the public school system stop teaching math, physics, chemistry, and biology in high schools? About 1955, in CA, as I recall. It sure shows.
If there were 400 ppm of carbon dioxide, then all of 40 molecules of CO2 would exist along with 99,960 molecules of almost entirely nitrogen (N2) and to a far lesser amount, oxygen (O2). If the portion of CO2 caused by humans was as large as 5%, all of 2 (two) molecules of CO2 amid 99,998 other molecules would be due to human activities. Those CO2 molecules must be magical indeed, to have “forcing temperature effects” on the other 99,998 molecules they are amid.
100,000 drops of water (US measurement) equate to more than 1.6 gallons of water. So I am being told that 40 drops of even boiling point temperature water can significantly cause measureable temperature changes in more than 1.5 gallons of water. Pure balderdash.

Steve Keohane

SteveE says: April 1, 2011
You do realize CO2 is at historic low levels for the planet, that the temperature does not change relative to CO2, and 2000-4000 ppm is what plants like as they evolved in those levels, and is therefore much more appropriate for the planet.

Steve Keohane