The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Help from the Tundra

From Bob Park's newsletter:
BALANCE: CLIMATE FEEDBACK MAY NOT BE AS BAD AS THOUGHT.
One of the global warming nightmares is that thawing permafrost might release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. This positive feedback would accelerate warming. A group led by M. Turetsky of Michigan State found that new plant growth in thawing Canadian peat bogs more than offset the release of methane.
I looked for Turetsky's study and found this press release linking to this abstract

5 comments:

Fergus said...

So, basically, Park has got it 100% wrong?
Is this normal for BP?

Michael Tobis said...

Well, it's a hard call. This seems to be the operative statemnt from the abstract.

"Our results suggest that the loss of surface permafrost in peatlands increases net carbon storage as peat, though in terms of radiative forcing, increased CH4 emissions to the atmosphere will partially or even completely offset this enhanced peatland carbon sink for at least 70 years following permafrost degradation."

Not sure what this means in terms of GWP, but it's good news compared to the previous conventional wisdom, where it's all chalked up to positive feedback.

Steve Bloom said...

Bear in mind that these peatlands are only one permafrost landform and others (the ones that won't be wetlands after they melt) probably can't be relied on to behave in the same way. For example, there are extensive areas of Siberian permafrost that are essentially frozen soil (with lots of not-very-degraded mammoth dung as a major component).

Fergus said...

I read it that it was new peat, not new plants, which increases CO2 uptake; this is quite a different thing to what Park seems to be saying. It takes a long time to activate carbon storage as peat, surely...

BTW: are you going to sue WIRED science for using that photo of you? it makes you look like a Roman Emperor.

mz said...

Peat forms at about 0.32 mm per year in Finland.
Fastest, 2-3 mm per year in young coastal swamps. Slowest, 0.1 mm per year in swamps with a sloping non-waterproof bottom, inland.
What class would the majority of current permafrost areas be, I do not know.

Source:
http://www.gtk.fi/tutkimus/maankaytto/hiili/kerrostumisnopeus.html
(in Finnish.)

My ex girlfriend did research on plant gas exchange of northern swamps. I could always ask her more about this paper.