Permafrost Thaw Feedback To Blow Carbon Budget ‘Faster Than We Would Expect’

“Permafrost carbon emissions are likely to be felt over decades to centuries as northern regions warm, making climate change happen faster than we would expect based on projected emissions from human activities alone.” — Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

*    *    *    *

Soil Organic Carbon Store

(Extent of Northern Hemisphere 1 meter soil organic carbon store in the now thawing and burning permafrost. At about 1,000 billion tons, it’s more than enough to put a hefty strain on the IPCC’s remaining 275 billion ton carbon budget. Image source: Stockholm University.)

For a moment, let’s consider some rather difficult to deal with numbers —

790 billion tons — that’s the so-called ‘carbon budget’ the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates we need to stay within to prevent 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming in just this Century (note that current stated fossil fuel reserves hold enough carbon to exceed this budget many times over). It’s the level IPCC says we need to stay below to prevent ‘bad outcomes.’ A rate of warming that does not including later temperature increases in following centuries — which would be about double the 21st Century’s amount if global greenhouse gas levels managed to plateau and the global carbon stores remained on good behavior.

515 billion tons — that’s the amount of carbon humans have already emitted into the atmosphere. It leaves us with less than 275 billion tons remaining.

About 24 years — that’s how long it will take for humans to burn enough fossil fuels and emit enough carbon (at current and projected rates) to use up that ‘carbon budget.’ A break-neck pace of burning and dumping of carbon that is now probably about six times faster than at any time in the geological record. Faster than the atmospheric carbon accumulation during the last hothouse extinction — the PETM. Faster than during the worst hothouse mass extinction of all — the Permian.

Hitting Carbon Limits

Sound like we’re up against some hard limits? Well, we are. Because the above basically implies that human emissions would need to start falling dramatically now and get to near zero by 2050 to meet IPCC’s goal. A limit that, by itself, may have built in too much slack and may not have taken into account other responses from the Earth climate system.

Now let’s consider these new numbers from a recent permafrost study released earlier this month in the context of IPCC’s ‘carbon budget…’

0.6 degrees Celsius — that’s the pace at which the Arctic is warming each and every decade. According to the new study:

This is causing normally frozen ground to thaw — exposing substantial quantities of organic carbon to decomposition by soil microbes. This permafrost carbon is the remnant of plants and animals accumulated in perennially frozen soil over thousands of years, and the permafrost region contains twice as much carbon as there is currently in the atmosphere.

This amounts to about 1400 billion tons and around 1,000 billion tons in the shallow carbon store alone. A massive fireplug of carbon stored in thawing (and burning) land-based permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere at a shallow depth of zero to 3 meters. The new study expects 40 to 170 billion tons of this carbon store to release over the next 85 years. A further 120 to 300 billion tons could hit the atmosphere by 2300 if the ongoing thaw in the north continues.

model estimates of potential carbon release from permafrost

(Model estimates of potential carbon release from permafrost. Note that Pg carbon is roughly equivalent to gigatons of carbon. Image source: Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback.)

So where does that leave our so-called carbon budget?

Averaging the report’s findings, we can add about 92 gigatons of baked-in feedback from the shallow permafrost zone alone and end up with 607 billion tons of carbon (human + expected permafrost). This leaves us with about 15 years before we are locked in to hit the ‘2 C limit’ of around 450 ppm CO2 by end Century (not considering a current 485 ppm CO2e level or end Century CO2e of 530 to 550 ppm when all other greenhouse gasses are added in).

In addition, the 120 to 300 billion additional tons from the shallow permafrost store expected to keep out-gassing through 2300 would ultimately result in a carbon pool that pushes atmospheric values up to 480-530 ppm CO2 (560 to 600 CO2e) and turns the ‘2 C limit’ into a 4-6 C (7.2 to 10.8 F) long term climate bake.

Carbon Debt With Compound Interest

Looking at the report’s numbers leaves us with the all-too-salient impression that we really don’t have a carbon budget at all. What we have is carbon bankruptcy. A carbon compounded debt shock enough to crack the whole of the Earth System carbon piggy bank and bleed out gigaton-sized carbon pennies for decades and centuries to come. And the new shallow permafrost carbon feedback estimate does not include the approximate 400 gigatons of carbon in the deep permafrost. Nor does it consider ocean carbon stores — which may provide their own carbon debt spiral. Nor does it include Antarctic carbon stores or a number of other possible stores that could be pushed out by heat stress.

Needless to say, some considered the news in the recent Nature Report ‘good.’ At least it didn’t identify a 50 gigaton methane release over one decade from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf as some other recent articles have considered. Some news reports even went so far as to call an approximate 92 gigaton release by 2100 (or a little more than 1 gigaton per year) from permafrost carbon ‘slow.’ The last hothouse extinction, the PETM, also saw similar ‘slow’ rates of release from the global carbon system. So, slow when compared to the raging 10 gigaton per year pace of current human emissions, but fast when compared to about practically anything else in geological history.

What the new report really means is that humans can’t afford to emit any more carbon. And what we need to be looking at now is a way to swiftly transition to a net carbon negative civilization — fast.

“This is not a minor feedback,” Kevin Schaefer, a prominent scientist from the National Snow and Ice Data Center said in a recent report on the new study’s findings. “… If you don’t account for it, you’ll overshoot this 2 degree target.”

Links:

Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

Thawing Permafrost — The Arctic’s Giant Carbon Release

Earth’s Natural Fridge is Turning into a Greenhouse Gas Machine

Bacteria Warm up the Permafrost

Stockholm University

Permafrost Feedback Update — Good News or Bad?

Leave a comment

122 Comments

  1. Andy Skuce did a really good analysis similar to yours on skeptical science…

    The concluded “These projected permafrost emissions are a very big deal. The Schuur et al. paper contains good news, in so far as an abrupt permafrost climate feedback is unlikely according to the experts, but the bad news is that the already difficult task of keeping warming under 2°C becomes much harder once we face up to the consequences of Arctic permafrost feedbacks.”

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/Schuur2015.html

    Reply
  2. You might also be interested in this new report by David Spratt…

    RECOUNT – IT’S TIME TO “DO THE MATH” AGAIN
    http://www.nocarbonbudget.info/

    Reply
  3. Thank you Robert for this one.

    As I don’t have the nous to make an original contribution, I look for information that may stimulate others. I found this from NASA to be educational, especially re. drought globally and in the US –

    “Matt Rodell spoke about his research on the measurement and modeling of freshwater availability based on ground and satellite observation. Improving understanding of the variability and changes in soil moisture, snow, and groundwater has implications for weather and climate prediction, water management, agriculture applications and natural hazards such as floods.”

    Reply
  4. CameronForge

     /  April 30, 2015

    Probably a little off topic not being carbon related, directly. But isnt 2 degrees already baked into the cake once you take into account the negative effect on radiative forcing from the atmospheric particulates from fossil fuel burning?
    That is…if we stopped burning all fossil fuels today…some days/weeks later the accumulation of said particulates fall from the atmosphere and we get to experience the full effect of radiative forcing?
    Not sure that I worded that correctly but enough to be understood hopefully.

    Reply
    • We are right on the edge of 2 C ECS warming if all the particulates fall out and if you account for a 485 ppm CO2e forcing from all ghg and if you assume a 3 C ECS climate sensitivity for each doubling of CO2 and equivalent.

      So, in lay man’s terms, yes, we’re probably very close. IPCC’s measure is a bit more conservative and puts us at a moderate chance of hitting 2 C this century given the current forcing and understood feedbacks (the ones less well understood were excluded in the most recent report). And to make matters worse, we probably should have shot for 1.5 C or lower as 2 C is rather terrible once you look at all the impacts.

      For this article, I assume IPCC science and goals while providing a bit of a critique in the details CO2e figures, etc. But the context of the paper I’m reporting on was IPCC, so I used that form for consistency.

      Reply
      • CameronForge

         /  May 1, 2015

        What, the IPCC is conservative? I understand the process there. The time it takes to get the information, then have it published and peer reviewed and then subjected to political (lets say) consideration before it makes its way into an official report.
        As I understand it now, being at .85 above pre-industrial global monthly average. Correct me if I’m wrong. I witness the changes that are occurring as a result of that. I’d name regions of interest but where do you stop?
        I wonder what is in store for us at 2 degrees and I cant help but think its a very slippery slope from there.
        Geo-engineering might buy us some time but I worry that some of the side effects might be as bad as the original problem itself, just in a different form.
        Understanding how recalcitrant co2 is the only real way back, as I see it, is to find a way to remove co2 from the atmosphere in the magnitude of gigatonnes per year. Im not aware of any industry that produces anything at that scale presently. Except for anthropogenic co2. Again, correct me if im in error.
        Sadly theres presently no profit in co2 removal…if there was maybe then we’d see some serious innovation in tackling the problem….theres clearly no shortage in co2 available for harvesting.

        Reply
        • Geo-engineering has unintended consequences written all over it. The best bet is rapid cessation of fossil fuel burning, a major switch to renewables, and rapid development of carbon negative materials and agriculture/land management practices. Low cost atmospheric carbon capture would help, as would poly culture, a widespread veganism, and mass reforestation.

      • Greg

         /  May 1, 2015

        CF,

        Concrete, roads and other major construction could store quite a lot after natural systems.

        Reply
  5. Griffin

     /  May 1, 2015

    Excellent post Robert. I have a question. How does the reduced carbon absorbtion rate that we would expect to see in a warming world factor in to a projected CO2 level in the future? My point is, the carbon uptake by the biosphere that we have enjoyed throughout human history is being hammered. As such, if our emissions don’t fall drastically soon, then those future emissions will have an even greater cumulative impact due to reduced absorption. Not a good situation it would seem.

    Reply
    • That’s exactly what happens, Griff. The carbon stores fill up. Some of them feedback and, as a result more of any future emission remains in the atmosphere for longer. There are some regional enhancements to carbon uptake with warming. For example, new organic activity in the Arctic does draw down some of the excess carbon. But the result is more carbon in circulation overall, not less.

      Reply
      • Griffin

         /  May 1, 2015

        Are the vast fires we have seen considered a wildcard? Size and intensity would be hard to project for the future, but the fires in the NH have already proven to have significant contributions. More fires would then count against any theoretical fossil fuel budget.

        Reply
      • rustj2015

         /  May 1, 2015

        I’d think this is a partial answer to the issue of the wildfires:

        http://www.climatecentral.org/news/california-forests-climate-polluters-18941

        Reply
      • We are very likely, over the coming months, to have a global fire season like we’ve never seen before. So much is dry, and will get drier. Soil and plant moisture will evaporate with the carbon into the atmosphere, and then drop it onto select mondo monsoon locations. And there will be an unfriendly atmosphere of particulate and carbon.
        Something like that, I would think.

        OUT

        Reply
      • Griff — I think that wildfires are a bit of a wildcard. Most of these studies are based on assumptions of microbial activity being the primary mechanism for release. And the assumption of biosphere carbon uptake in the Arctic (which serves to limit earlier carbon emissions) considers it to be a mostly stable biosphere. Not one that suffers repeated and expanding burning. That bothers me.

        Reply
    • wili

       /  May 1, 2015

      Good points, Griff and rs. The other point about burning is that it heats up the are much faster than mere microbial activity could do. And fire can get down into deeper layers that most modelers don’t bother with, afaik.

      And permafrost can be up to a mile deep in some places. I say a claim recently (here??) that carbon density in permafrost goes up exponentially as you go deeper into it. I hadn’t heard that before and don’t have a source, but if true, that makes burning even more…bothersome…

      Reply
      • Griffin

         /  May 1, 2015

        Thanks wili. It was Roberts point about uneven heating that really hit me. We hear a lot about the dangers of a 2c rise, but that is assumed as a global temp. Certainly local areas will see such effects long before the distribution of heat is measured globally. As such, when a large area of forest goes from a sink to a source, our budget is negatively impacted, doubly if you will. Fire then becomes more common in the area that is experiencing the local heat anomaly, in addition to soils becoming in themselves, a carbon source. We would then logically see large swathes becoming overall negative factors to our remaining budget. Although they may see temporary recovery and additional carbon sink duty, the likelihood of return to punishing heat has increased, and the threshold of tolerance to such heat has been lowered. So it would stand to reason that although we may seem to have time/budget remaining before the 2c limit is reached, the contributions of the earth system must be factored in to the risk analysis, and thus the urgency of remedy increased.

        Reply
  6. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Republicans take aim at Obama’s 2016 NASA spending plan for climate change research.

    The House committee charged with authorizing NASA spending took aim at a key Obama administration priority Thursday with a party line vote slashing spending on Earth science – the missions that study issues such as global climate change. Protected and expanded were NASA’s development of a big new deep-space rocket and missions to other planets.

    Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, including bill co-sponsor Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), said the measure “restores balance.” Democrats and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the bill “guts” critical science missions to understand the climate and threatens NASA’s broad support on Capitol Hill.

    The vote today is just one step in a congressional process of approval for NASA spending. It authorizes spending levels for FY 2016 and FY 2017 but does not appropriate any money to fund those authorizations.

    Link

    Reply
    • rustj2015

       /  May 1, 2015

      If only the idiots could see their idiocy!
      These are awfully irresponsible people we have directing traffic into the future. Or they’re worse than mere idiots….
      [snip]
      For example, approximately 50 scientific societies and universities said the bill would prohibit the EPA from using many large-scale public health studies, because their data “could not realistically be reproduced.” In addition, many studies use private medical data, trade secrets, and industry data that cannot legally be made public.

      “The legislation may sound reasonable, but it’s actually a cynical attack on the EPA’s ability to do its job,” said Andrew Rosenberg, the director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a statement. “This bill would make it impossible for the EPA to use many health studies, since they often contain private patient information that can’t and shouldn’t be revealed.”

      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/04/29/3652747/epa-secret-science-bill-passes-senate-committee/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=cptop3

      Reply
    • Add one more low mark for republicans. Each time you think they can’t get any worse, they surprise you with some fresh madness.

      Reply
      • CameronForge

         /  May 1, 2015

        Seone needs to remind the republicans that the military need to keep track of the atmosphere for weapons control and targeting.

        Reply
      • And sea level rise for placement of naval bases, ports and shipping lanes. And climate disruption for monitoring triggers for future instability. And on and on. Ignoring climate change shows vast ignorance to future threats and a major foreign policy and national security blind spot. If you can’t get on top of the ball when it comes to climate change, you have a party that can’t effectively run US government — amounting to a group of leaders that only pantomime leadership. But the Republican Party has been that sad state for at least a decade and a half now.

        Reply
  7. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Wildcards ?
    We’re playing with so many jokers in the deck , the mind reels.
    One that comes to my mind, is whether we see a “wet thaw”, or a “dry thaw”. The wet one gives us CH4 before it oxidizes into Co2.

    Reply
    • Right:
      The big Q to ask: Am I a gas, a liquid, or a solid?
      A: It depends on when you ask. And how hot/cold or wet/dry I am.
      And always changeable.🙂

      Reply
    • Dry one area. Then wildfires. Then massive floods in another area.

      Worth noting the studies assume a 2.3 percent methane emission allotment. So 97.7 percent of this is supposed to come from CO2. Will have to see how that ‘wild card’ shakes out.

      Reply
  8. rustj2015

     /  May 1, 2015

    And for those capable of absorbing the information:

    Scientists to Analyze “the Blob” at Scripps Oceanography Workshop | Scripps Institution of…

    https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/scientists-analyze-blob-scripps-oceanography-workshop

    Reply
  9. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Sam Johnson introduces bill to gut EPA climate change efforts

    WASHINGTON-A Texas congressman has introduced a bill that would eliminate funding for most of President Obama’s signature environmental initiatives, and do away with several programs within the Environmental Protection Agency altogether.

    Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, says if enacted his bill would save taxpayers $7.5 billion a year. It would gut most of the Obama Administration’s efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, power plants and industrial smokestacks. Those initiatives have proven among the president’s least popular among business leaders, and Republicans and industry alike have fought them in court and through legislation.

    So far, however, they’ve remained largely in tact — and undoing the EPA’s work on climate change has been a key priority of the Republican controlled Congress. This bill represents a more sweeping response than may had expected. It faces almost certain veto prospects and tough odds in both the Senate and full House.

    Link

    Reply
    • I have to say it. Thank God for Obama and the democrats in Congress. Without them, we’d be riding off to some fresh hell called firestorm at the fastest rate imaginable. Business leaders supporting republicans at this point are anti a human and life-habitable world.

      Reply
      • Andy in YKD

         /  May 1, 2015

        Snip: But it looks as though the Obama Administration and Big Oil merely traded KXL for Arctic drilling rights.

        An announcement was made, rather quietly, this week which did not seem to receive much attention. It came from the Department of Energy’s Oil Council which is made up largely of energy company executives, some government officials, analysis firms and nonprofit organizations. The Council released a study which was produced by the National Petroleum Council at the request of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. It claims that the U.S. should begin Arctic drilling immediately.

        Then another announcement was made a day later.

        The Obama Administration granted access to Shell for Arctic drilling. According to FuelFix:

        “The Obama administration reaffirmed a 2008 government auction of Arctic drilling rights on Tuesday, delivering a major victory to Shell Oil Co. as it aims to resume exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer.”

        Link: http://theenergycollective.com/energydeborah/2213096/keystone-xl-traded-arctic-drilling-rights

        Keystone was small potatoes compared to Arctic drilling.

        Reply
      • Andy —

        The Obama Administration is pushing the technologies that will replace oil while it is throwing out little bones to the majors to quibble over and false paths for them to pursue. Shell’s Arctic drilling is a venture into one of the most hostile E/P environments in the world. Pretty much anyone who’s tried has been hammered by delays, wrecked equipment and extraordinary weather. So yeah, if Shell wants to try another Arctic drilling failure and waste billions while Musk eats their market share and the EPA regulates them out of a viable product, then I say go for it.

        But anyone who thinks Obama is these guys buddy is fooling themselves.

        Reply
  10. Apneaman

     /  May 1, 2015

    Scientists discover swirling, oxygen-depleted dead zones in North Atlantic
    Scientists baffled by open sea dead zones but say the areas of low oxygen could explain previously mysterious die-offs

    http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/4/30/Atlantic-dead-zones-oxygen.html

    Reply
  11. You’re right on top of things again — urgent matters matter. Ha. Good graphics and quotes — well balanced.
    Especially these powerful dormant earth physics cycles we have awaken with our FF actions.
    Thanks

    Ps A small request for those who think Fahrenheit. Please add F value to C values (just at first mention of C, after that all can remember the dif) for ease to get across very important information.
    THX

    Reply
  12. chris

     /  May 1, 2015

    Thank you! Your efforts continue to be extremely educational.

    Reply
  13. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Gravity data show that Antarctic ice sheet is melting increasingly faster

    Date:
    April 30, 2015
    Source:
    Princeton University
    Summary:
    Researchers ‘weighed’ Antarctica’s ice sheet using gravitational satellite data and found that during the past decade, Antarctica’s massive ice sheet lost twice the amount of ice in its western portion compared with what it accumulated in the east. Their conclusion — the southern continent’s ice cap is melting ever faster.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150430191140.htm

    Reply
    • Current SLR rocketing above trend:

      Reply
      • Colorado Bob

         /  May 1, 2015

        Looking at that chart , I am struck by that drop when Australia flooded and the water couldn’t flow out of the bowl in Australia. But the march upward began immediately after that event. It really shows what an ungodly amount of water fell on them. Too bad there aren’t water table records there , where we can see how much soaked in . The chart says it evaporated as fast as it fell.

        Reply
  14. Andy in San Diego

     /  May 1, 2015

    I found this graph fascinating. It is temperature by depth. You can see the surface is quite reactive to the temperature though the seasons. As one goes deeper, the temperature behaves like a moving average and is less reactive, but rather has a longer term reaction.

    Reply
    • Andy in San Diego

       /  May 1, 2015

      And now to close the loop, one can see here over the course of ~7 decades the penetration of heat to those lower slow reacting layers.

      Reply
    • Fantastic find here, Andy. Pretty clear picture that heat can telegraph deep underground over rather short timescales. Wonder if we can get a picture at the hydrate stability zone depth?

      Reply
  15. Andy in San Diego

     /  May 1, 2015

    A rough image on the feedback loop

    Reply
  16. Greg

     /  May 1, 2015

    Elon Musk just finished his presentation and rollout of Tesla Energy. He directly tied it to FF carbon pollution and our and other living things extinction. He is thinking and acting big. “We can do this” a complete transformation From fossil fuels to renewables, principally solar, with mega scale battery storage. $3500 for 10kw home systems right now. Great start as I believe that will surprise many regarding price. Continuing to encourage competitors and share the technology. You can pre-order these units on their website now and the commercial units are infinitely scalable. He isn’t a huckster but a real ally.A glimmer of hope…

    Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  May 1, 2015

      One problem , his battery plant is being built east of Reno, Nev. Where he plans to get his water is beyond me.

      Reply
      • Andy in YKD

         /  May 1, 2015

        Does anyone really believe there are enough of the scarce resources needed for computer chips, batteries, LEDs etc. . . to make ever higher tech personal transportation widely available? The global mining/supply/manufacturing/distribution system required to produce EVs is hardly the sustainable/regenerative system that is needed to reverse the ongoing biosphere collapse.

        Reply
      • The water intensity of this industry is far less than a major traditional power plant or industrial meat. If the plant gets its energy from solar, as it will, it will actually offset a significant portion of its water impact.

        Andy — the new EV and battery tech is definitely a part of the solution. And the supply chain issues have been substantially overblown. As the industry has expanded more resource/materials avenues have opened up. And as far as the sustainability footprint goes, you are talking about an industry that is far, far less disruptive than fossil fuels based transportation.

        So absolutely, Greg, I’m a Musk ally. I honestly think the detractors are getting in the way of helpful solutions.

        Reply
    • Robert In New Orleans

       /  May 1, 2015

      Elon Musk introducing the Tesla Battery, he even mentions and shows the Keeling curve:

      Reply
  17. Andy in San Diego

     /  May 1, 2015

    Lake Mead is dropping ~2″ / day.

    Level is at 1079.4 feet. 4.5 feet till it hits 1075 (Begin reduction of Nevada’s share).

    If the current trend continues with same inflow / outflow then by then end of May, we are past 1075 feet.

    http://lakemead.water-data.com/

    Reply
  18. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Why Tesla’s announcement could be such a big deal: The coming revolution in energy storage

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/04/30/why-teslas-announcement-could-be-such-a-big-deal/

    I welcome everything this may bring , but site in this desert is a fools folly.

    Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  May 1, 2015

      He could have placed it in Detroit .

      Reply
    • Greg

       /  May 1, 2015

      CB, I agreed with this assessment when the factory was first announced but the issue was addressed here and Robert, and maybe others, pointed out that the drier the environment the better the production of these kinds of batteries. Water is not needed in significant quantities. Location is also close to much of the inputs needed.

      Reply
      • Colorado Bob

         /  May 1, 2015

        The workers need water everyday.

        No water no worker.

        Reply
      • The water impact is low. It’s in a good location near the raw materials base needed for the batteries. It uses solar, which lowers the water footprint further. And, if solar + storage comes to dominate the nearby region then water use for power generation will go down. I’d say the plant adds resiliency more than it harms it — both for the region and for the world.

        Reply
    • Robert In New Orleans

       /  May 1, 2015

      My understanding is that a dry environment is most conducive to the production of Lithium Ion batteries. Elon Musk is nobody’s fool.

      Reply
  19. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Carbon from melting permafrost goes back to atmosphere

    Deep layers of frozen soil and rock in the Arctic, known as permafrost, contain massive stores of ancient carbon that became trapped in the ground tens of thousands of years ago. As permafrost thaws across the Arctic in response to climate change, scientists have been busy trying to figure out just where the newly release carbon will go.

    Now, a new study on streams and rivers in Siberia has found that aquatic microbes are voracious consumers of that carbon. After consuming the carbon, the microbes release it as CO2, where it will end up back in the atmosphere and contribute to further warming. The new research was published in an early online issue of Geophysical Research Letters on April 23, 2015.

    Current estimates hold that the amount of permafrost carbon is equivalent to over three times the amount of carbon that is tied up in global forest biomass. Scientists are concerned that the release of permafrost carbon to the atmosphere as the Arctic warms may contribute to more warming in the region and beyond, which could lead to global effects such as sea level rise.

    https://earthsky.org/earth/carbon-from-melting-permafrost-goes-back-to-atmosphere

    Reply
  20. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Something I never read before –

    Current estimates hold that the amount of permafrost carbon is equivalent to over three times the amount of carbon that is tied up in global forest biomass.

    Gulp

    Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  May 1, 2015

      If we saw down every tree on the planet, the Arctic still has 3 times that carbon. Everyone get their head a round that.

      Reply
      • Yes it’s a vast amount of carbon. It doesn’t mean it’s all vulnerable to release.

        Think of the peat bogs in the UK. Well above freezing, still large carbon stores.

        But as Robert and Any Skuce point out even if 5-15% is released by the end of the century that’s still not negligible, maybe ~0.13-25C extra warming additional to RCP 8.5.

        Reply
      • wili

         /  May 1, 2015

        The main thing is that these used to be an important way for the overall system to take carbon OUT of the atmosphere.

        Every year, there has been a growth spurt during the summer, then all that plant carbon was effectively sequestered as it froze and the next summers growth grew on top of it, making an ever deeper repository of carbon safely sealed away from the atmosphere.

        We are in the process of breaking that seal, and whether it comes out slowly or quickly, it will all come out eventually, to the detriment of all life on earth (except some thermophylic micro-organisms and such).

        Reply
    • Mark from New England

       /  May 1, 2015

      Yikes. Well, this is an easy number to remember when talking policy.

      Reply
    • Yes. And twice what we see in the atmosphere.

      The issue is not that it comes out all at once. Even a small fraction can have a major impact. The real issue is that this is a massive addition to the overall active carbon cycle.

      Reply
  21. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Everyone get their head a round that.

    Reply
  22. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Men need work , they chain saw the forest,

    We could change this , the forest has has more wealth standing than dead logs,

    Reply
  23. Reblogged this on jpratt27.

    Reply
  24. This is terrifying. Consider all of the coal fired power plants still being built across the globe. Think of the billions invested every year by oil and gas companies to identify and develop new fields. Think of the multinationals who can’t wait to exploit the arctic, now that burning fossil fuels has melted it enough to access the fossil fuels that lie beneath the ice cap (the tragic irony). Every business decision being made is based on the assumption that the world will continue to burn carbon-rich fuels for decades to come. Climate change is still not even discussed in the media, or among the general population. I think in the future we will look back at these years as the moment we crossed the point of no return, locking in devestating consequences. I really hope I’m wrong and we manage to correct our trajectory.

    Reply
  25. Ouse M.D.

     /  May 1, 2015

    IPCC scenarios are totally based on 7- 10 years old peer- reviewed data.
    I guess we are already in the phase where we don’t have time for peer- reviewed articles to come out.
    The overwhelming evidence is all around us.
    “Peer- review” times were already over with the first methane eruptions.
    An entire news basis of scientific analysis is needed,
    Too much specialization seems to be a coldesack.
    And over- specialization is the fundamental idea of civilization.
    So, You can take a guess, what my non- peer- reviewed idea of civilization is…

    Reply
  26. T-rev

     /  May 1, 2015

    “About 24 years — that’s how long it will take for humans to burn enough fossil fuels and emit enough carbon (at current and projected rates) to use up that ‘carbon budget.”

    Professor Kevin Anderson suggest less than 15 years. His numbers here:
    http://kevinanderson.info/blog/full-global-decarbonisation-of-energy-by-2034-and-probably-before/

    Reply
    • These seem to conflate CO2 emissions with global carbon emissions. For example, global carbon emissions each year are now in excess of 10 billion tons from human sources. Convert this to CO2 and and you get 37 billion tons of CO2.

      One ton of carbon equals 44/12 = 11/3 = 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide. This is a common mix-up and seems to be some cause for confusion in the above link.

      With 275 tons of carbon left in IPCC’s carbon budget, you hit the 790 billion ton threshold level at a flat rate of burning in about 28 years. The 24 year figure I posted includes some increases assumed. If carbon emissions decrease due to better practices and renewable energy adoption and if the carbon stores remain somewhat quiet, then the horizon is pushed forward. If carbon stores release and if rates of emission increase, then the horizon is pushed closer.

      A 92 gt release of carbon from the permafrost by end Century would push the horizon forward about 9 years to 15, which is why I also added that to my above assessment.

      Reply
  27. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    In Sept. of 1945 Major. Peter Dewye was first American killed in Indochina. He said this before he died.

    ” Cochinchina is burning. The French and British are finished here, we ought to clear out of Southeast Asia.”

    Peter Dewye spoke French, and was from Princeton.

    http://video.pbs.org/video/2365474570/

    Reply
  28. A link between the hiatus in global warming and North American drought

    http://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/news-app/story.108

    Reply
  29. Early twentieth-century warming linked to tropical Pacific wind strength

    http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v8/n2/abs/ngeo2321.html

    Reply
  30. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6234/501

    Mark Urban provides a synthetic and sobering estimate of climate change–induced biodiversity loss by applying a model-averaging approach to 131 of these studies. The result is a projection that up to one-sixth of all species may go extinct if we follow “business as usual” trajectories of carbon emissions.

    Reply
  31. Jim

     /  May 1, 2015

    Oh Hi — don’t know if my previous post – question – is awaiting moderation about how today’s levels of other gasses and future projections of human releases of these gasses. Methane and so on. How do they fit into this picture.
    Thanks!

    Jim

    Reply
  32. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    For over 50 years i have watched poor people loot, and burn their own hoods. If they want change, go loot and burn the rich peoples hood.

    Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  May 1, 2015

      Violence has never solved any human problem, it only begets more violence. In the long history of man that one thing is clear.

      Reply
    • 🙂

      At least Occupy took the protest to Koch Brother mansions in Manhattan and Alex HQ. That’s a good place to start.

      Reply
  33. Reblogged this on During Air Attack, Drive Off Bridge and commented:
    The thawing permafrost was beginning to be an issue when I was an undergrad. I did a senior paper on Canadian soils for a Soil Genesis and Classification course back in 1982. At that time, changes were beginning to be observed. Tipsy houses and drunken forests were leaving people with hangovers, so to speak. Now permafrost thaw is a downright emergency, and yet that the most important public policy advisory reports, The IPCC, has yet to include this forcing in its calculations of future impacts and feedbacks. (Likewise with the disintegration of the ice sheets and it’s impacts on sea level rise, but that’s another topic.)

    The root of the problem is fossil fuel emissions. There is no magic bullet to prevent the impacts from crippling civilization at this point. But, we can prevent it from getting worse than it already is.

    We Need To Keep The Stuff In The Ground.

    Reply
  34. Mike

     /  May 1, 2015

    I am not sure why anyone here thinks we still have a carbon budget. This article is sobering.

    http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2772427/survivable_ipcc_projections_are_based_on_science_fiction_the_reality_is_much_worse.html

    Dr Nutt’s conclusion points to very important factor that we can elaborate on with a rare case of certainty. There is no proposed CDR technology that can be scaled up to suck billions of tonnes out of the Earth’s atmosphere. It simply does not exist in the real world.

    This is reiterated by Dr Hugh Hunt in the Department of Engineering, at the University of Cambridge, who points out:

    “10 billion tonnes a year of carbon sequestration? We don’t do anything on this planet on that scale. We don’t manufacture food on that scale, we don’t mine iron ore on that scale. We don’t even produce coal, oil or gas on that scale. Iron ore is below a billion tonnes a year! How are we going to create a technology, from scratch, a highly complicated technology, to the tune of 10 billion tonnes a year in the next 10 years?”

    Reply
    • We are absolutely not going to sequester 10 billion tons of carbon each year. There’s not enough storage for it. We have to stop emitting 10 billion tons of carbon each year.

      To that end we need a full replacement of all fossil fuel burning with renewables + efficiency. A change toward building materials that soak up rather than emit carbon. And a change in land use practices to methods that sequester carbon rather than tear up the biosphere and the carbon stores and cause them to leech out.

      Some biomass CCS could be helpful at the margins. But the low hanging fruit is all that fossil fuel burning, which simply must stop.

      We don’t have much time. So we should be doing this very rapidly yesterday.

      Reply
      • Mike

         /  May 1, 2015

        Robert, I think the point of the article was that the IPCC projections of 2 degrees relies on the ability – it requires – that we be able to remove this quantity of CO2 every year starting within 10 years. So, I agree – there is no way we will keep under 2 degrees at this point.

        Reply
        • Mike —

          Let’s just take IPCC projections as granted for a moment and look at this analysis.

          1. There’s 275 gigatons left before we hit the IPCC 2 C mark.
          2. If burning stops, now, we don’t hit that mark unless there is active carbon store release from the biosphere.
          3. The IPCC does not assume active carbon store release (which is probably a bad idea, because we’ll probably see some of that).
          4. So under IPCC rules, if burning stops now, then no carbon capture is required.

          Now, IPCC may have suggested carbon capture as a potential solution to the problem of hitting its goal. Language in the paper indicated as much. And you and I can both agree that CCS is not a viable way to hit that goal. But other options remain open including a complete cessation of fossil fuel burning as rapidly as possible. And this would also imply a rapid transition to renewables.

          Further, Mike, we do have a number of carbon sequestration options that do not fully rely on CCS and employing those would also be helpful.

          But the point to underline and keep repeating is that we absolutely must stop burning fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. Fin. That’s the center of gravity of this problem and if we don’t hit that then we are done.

          So the argument, Mike, as it is presented is a bit of a distraction.

  35. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    What does the world really need ?

    A bicycle powered water purification plant.

    Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  May 1, 2015

      It comes in a small tote plus a few simple tools , with the hook up to any bike’s rear frame, the chain mates on to the plant. Then dirty water is dumped in the top, and clean water comes out the bottom as long as someone peddles the bike.

      This ain’t science fiction , the bike just drives the water through the membranes that are already here.

      Reply
      • Colorado Bob

         /  May 1, 2015

        I wrote ShelterBox about this . We’ll see if I’m full of shit, or behind the curve.

        Reply
      • rustj2015

         /  May 1, 2015

        Thanks for the positive tip, CB; please give us a link, if available.

        Reply
  36. bill h

     /  May 1, 2015

    Robert,

    Thanks for the link to the nature paper: this is definitely a paper that should be open access. Note in the references, numbers 82 and 83 are Shakova et al. So they are getting recognised by the scientific establishment

    Reply
    • Schurr and Schaefer over at NSIDC do not appear to be closed to considering the S&S work. They have both been very vocal about feedback risks and seem to just be honestly trying to nail this down.

      Reply
  37. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Reply
    • Mark from New England

       /  May 1, 2015

      Thanks for these Bob. We should all “Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world”.

      Reply
  38. Colorado Bob

     /  May 1, 2015

    Reply
  39. Just remember that the IPCC projections that would keep us around 2 degrees C by 2100 all assume carbon capture and storage will happen. That is, they add into their accounting a technology that does not exist, and is likely never to exist on any scale that matters.

    Reply
    • Pretty bad bet to make. The only way we are doing this is full cessation of fossil fuel burning, transition to renewables, big changes in land use and how we eat (far less industrial meat) and a switch to building materials that absorb carbon. Some CCS + biomass may help at the margins. But the best active CCS I’ve seen is taking down 10-20 percent emissions at a huge cost to water. In addition, the stored carbon has been sold on the market to enhance oil extraction, so it’s a net carbon addition now in practice.

      Reply
  40. Andy in YKD

     /  May 1, 2015

    April 2015 average temperature in my area in the YKD is 31 F. Long term average up to and including last year’s very warm year is 27 F.

    Reply
  41. james cole

     /  May 1, 2015

    “We sit at the end of a long cool down. That means there are quite a lot of carbon stores ready to be activated at each level of warming beyond the ice age interglacial peaks.”
    As a layman, I have had trouble getting my mind around why the earth held so much carbon in storage. Then these few sentences really made it clear to me. Much thanks for that.

    Reply
    • Absolutely. In basic terms, the cooling periods are carbon storage periods. The cold zones of the world are traps to the carbon-based organisms as they die. That carbon is taken out of the natural cycle so long as they system remains cool. When things start heating up, then that carbon is re-introduced and the cold stores fail or can’t hold as much carbon. If you sit at the end of a long cold spell, as we do, there tend to be lots of piles of old carbon lying about.

      Reply
  42. DATELINE: PACIFIC NORTHWEST – PDX
    Skies are murky and still. Airliners flying Polar routes slash across the atmosphere.

    Reply
  43. DATELINE: URBAN BLACK GUM USA

    Reply
    • DATELINE: BACK IN THE ‘OLD’ DAYS
      Chewing and bubble gum on the sidewalk generally kept their original pink, beige, or orange color until the sum bleached out their pigments.
      But now, in a soot and carbon black world, the gum deposits turn black within hours, or just a few days.
      Sidewalk gum is sticky and exposed to atmospheric fallout.
      Ours, and our children’s lungs, nostrils, and airways are also sticky with a protective mucous.
      Aerosol pollution and particulate from atmospheric fallout adheres to things gum and mucous.
      Any questions🙂
      OUT

      Reply
  44. It amazes me how many people on these so called aware of climate change issue blogs, don’t understand that 400ppm CO2 and god knows how much CH4/CO2e etc there is (???) equals the end of humans/mammals. ‘we’ are not going to stop emitting the ten Gt per year of whatever, and we are not capable of extracting enough CO2/CH4 out of the atmosphere to make one bit of difference.
    Any discussion on how we could cycle or light bulb our way out of this is just childish wishful thinking, we all need to bloody grow up and face the reality of what we face.
    Most of you know what 400 ppm CO2 has meant in the past, and this time around we have done it with something like 9,800 years in change faster than anytime in the past.
    Never has there been so much CH4 sitting just below the surface, ready to burst forth into a 400 ppm CO2 atmosphere, We are about to see something like 800 CH4 lifetimes crammed into about 30 (?) if not 5?? years
    You can ride ya bike, solar celled charged/manufactured battery ya life as much as you like, it will not reduce what is already set in motion, the bullet has left the barrel, and has just penetrated the skin of this fucked up system, nothing is going to send it back.

    Happy happy joy joy

    22after.com

    Reply
    • We are more than capable of bringing fossil fuel emissions to zero. We are more than capable of switching to carbon absorptive building materials. And we are more than capable of altering our land use to draw carbon out of the atmosphere. The question is are we capable of jettisoning the industries and ways of thinking that stand in the way of us doing just that?

      400 ppm CO2 is not an absolute death sentence to humankind and mammals. It’s far less favorable world for our kind. But if we keep burning, then we get to far worse conditions and, possibly, to the very worst case that you, now, seem to think is inevitable.

      Reply
    • rustj2015

       /  May 2, 2015

      We are in the process of change, we are of that process; we are not the process.
      Since most have left, I’ll put this into the trailing winds:

      “Tzu-jan” is a very different manner of thinking about the universe than what we’re used to in the West. We think of time in linear terms, whereas in ancient China they thought of existence as a burgeo0ning forth, an ongoing generative present in which things appear and disappear in the process of change. And this constant birthing goes on both in the physical world and in human consciousness, for consciousness is as much a part of that process as surf or a rainstorm or blossoms opening in an almond orchard.”
      David Hinton, “The Egret Lifting from the River”
      quoted from The Sun, January 2015

      Reply
  45. http://operamundi.uol.com.br/conteudo/samuel/40285/possibilidade+de+caos+social+por+falta+de+agua+em+sp+mobiliza+comando+do+exercito.shtml

    (Google translation) –

    Why the Southeast Military Command (CMSE) are interested in the water shortage crisis in São Paulo?

    The answer came in the afternoon of last Tuesday, April 28, during the panel organized by the army, which occurred within his headquarters in Ibirapuera, south of the state capital.
    During more than three hours of debate, aimed at officers, soldiers and some university professors and supporters of the military who filled the auditorium of the headquarters of the command in São Paulo, he was outlining the real reason of the high Brazilian generalship be concerned about an issue that apparently It is out military action standards.

    The password was given by the director of Sabesp, Paul Massato which side Anicia Pio, the Fiesp (Federation of São Paulo State Industries), and professor of engineering at Unicamp, Antonio Carlos Zuffo, drew a picture of how water crisis is impacting the São Paulo State.

    Massato was clear. If the emergency works being made by the company do not give result and if it rains little, São Paulo will be without water from July this year. The scenario described by the head of Sabesp is catastrophic and worthy of a horror movie script.

    “It will be terror. Will not have power, will not have electricity … It will be a doomsday scenario. Thousands of people and social chaos can trigger. There will not only be a problem of shortage of water. It will be much more serious than that … “emphasizes during his speech to following launch a hope of supplication:” But I hope it does not happen. ”

    He points out that the metropolitan region of São Paulo live 20 million people, when the ideal would be four million. Of these, according Massato, three million slum that would have stolen water. “Steal water or take without paying,” he says, eliciting laughter from the audience.

    Reply
    • Very interesting, H.
      Just the type of situation to keep track of.
      I’m sure more of these will unfold in the coming months.
      And equally sure many are ‘gaming’ these events, and like scenarios, as they prepare strategies for their own domains.
      Much suffering by many, at any rate.

      Reply
      • – Brazil, SA , grey deserts, and an atmosphere under assault.

        Why A Volcanic Eruption In Chile Is Turning Brazil’s Sky Purple

        This is what a sunset in Rio de Janeiro looks like right now, and it’s all thanks to that volcano erupting in Chile last week. Calbuco spewed 210 million cubic metres of ash into the atmosphere, turning nearby regions into a “grey desert” and altering weather thousands of miles away.

        The massive clouds of of ash that shot out of Calbuco when it first began erupting were composed of dust and sulphur dioxide. The ash is ejected into the stratosphere and spread by wind. Sulphur dioxide reacts with the atmosphere to form sulphate aerosols — fine particles that become suspended in the air.

        -First a pic, then a gif, then the link:

        Reply
  46. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-snowpack-count-canceled-drought-20150430-story.html
    State water officials had planned to make the trek back to the Sierra Nevada in the coming days to conduct their snowpack measurement Friday.
    But Thursday they announced they wouldn’t bother. For the second consecutive month, there won’t be any snow to measure.

    Reply
  47. I think you need to watch this Harvard presentation by Dr. James Anderson. I was not aware of the “wetting” of the stratosphere feedback and it’s implications on public health. However, I can not determine from this lecture if this rather localized USA event is due as the normal course of climate change or due to all the fracking activities in the US. I have an email into the professor on this question and will let you know his response.

    Also discussed is the Arctic permafrost thaw and clathrates melt.

    In the mean time, don’t forget to wear your hat and sun screen.

    EPS/SEAS Climate Science Breakfast: “Coupled Feedbacks in the Climate Structure That Set the Time Scale for Irreversible Change: Arctic Isotopes to Stratospheric Radicals” with James Anderson, Philip S. Weld Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, Harvard University

    Reply
  1. Permafrost Thaw | Standard Climate

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