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Chilling warnings on receding permafrost
02 May 2006
The annual loss of around 1 per cent of the world's permafrost areas
will trigger the release of more greenhouse gases, starting a vicious
circle that could make global warming even worse than anticipated,
scientists have warned.
Peter Kershaw from the University of Alberta at Edmonton, Canada
warned an audience of over 500 people at the Royal Geographical
Society, London on Thursday that `due to global warming, permafrost
in the Arctic is degrading.' Kershaw has been monitoring the effects
of climate change on Arctic biotopes for many years, supported by
volunteers who can join his research via the Earthwatch Institute.
Kershaw's research on locations in Canada � at Churchill and in the
Mackenzie Mountains � has shown that permafrost areas are receding
rapidly, and if current trends continue they will disappear
completely within decades. These vast frozen areas on all continents
surrounding the North Pole harbour over 400 gigatons of organic
carbon locked in frozen peatland. Kershaw thinks that the release of
methane and carbon dioxide from these peatlands will act as a
positive feedback loop that could make global warming even worse than
previously thought. `The permafrost component of global warming has
been underappreciated,' he told Chemistry World.
`Peter Kershaw's research shows how global warming is beginning to
unravel the earth's natural systems for storing carbon,' said Roger
Mitchell, chief scientist at Earthwatch Europe. `If this system is
further disrupted there will be huge consequences for the entire
Kershaw has observed that both wildlife and human communities in
northern latitudes are already beginning to suffer from climate
consequently, Mitchell said, `we must not only continue to pursue
economic and technological solutions to mitigate these effects, but
also put strategies in place to adapt as our local climate changes
and the climate envelopes for our crops and wildlife move.'