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Climate: Rethinking the Arctic carbon cycle

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Permafrost processes will play a big role in Earth’s climate for decades to comes.

New findings critical to climate calculations

Staff Report

FRISCO — Sunlight is the key factor in the process of converting Arctic permafrost carbon into atmospheric carbon dioxide, scientists concluded in a new study that could dramatically change the scientific understanding of the planet’s carbon cycle and the consequences of a permafrost meltdown.

The finding is particularly important because climate change could affect when and how permafrost is thawed, which begins the process of converting the organic carbon into CO2. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Science. Continue reading

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Climate Ranger update: Into the cryosphere

The realm of ice and snow

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A huge summer snowcave persists into late August in some years, nurturing the highest headwaters with small trickles that feed wetlands, creeks and ponds. A big shift in the timing of snowmelt or the total amount of annual snowfall will have big impacts on the high alpine Rocky Mountain ecosystems.

Some flowers literally grow straight through the ice

Some flowers literally grow straight through the ice.

Support the Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger project to learn more about how global warming is affecting the Rocky Mountains.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — It would be hard to do a climate change journey without visiting the cryosphere, that part of the Earth which is in a frozen state at any given time. The biggest slices, of course, are at the poles, but the rest is in the high mountains of the world, where glaciers linger for now, and snow coats the ground for half the year.

Most of the world’s population lives far removed from the realm of ice and snow, but it’s the part of the planet that’s showing the most wear and tear from global warming. The steep decades-long decline in sea ice extent, the potential collapse of massive Antarctic ice shelves and the continued worldwide glacial meltdown are all clear signs of our planet’s fever. Continue reading

Environment: Deep permafrost melt, continued mountain glacier loss highlighted in NOAA 2013 climate check-up

Greenhouse gas levels again reach record highs, wtih CO2 crossing 400 ppm threshold for the first time in the anthropocene — last tine CO2 was this high, Earth was a much warmer place, with sea levels 20 feet higher than now …

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This graph of global glacier loss is a mirror image to graphs that show the rise in global temperatures. Graphic courtesy NOAA.

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Staff Report

FRISCO — Last year brought more sobering signs of continued global warming, including record-warm temperatures 20 meters below the ground on Alaska’s North Slope, federal scientists said today, releasing the 2013 State of the Climate report (Blunden, J., and D. S. Arndt, Eds., 2014: State of the Climate in 2013. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 95 (7), S1-S238).

With heat-trapping greenhouse gases reaching record levels in 2013, “the state of the climate is changing more rapidly than at any time in … in the known record,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director Thomas Karl, outlining the findings in the agency’s annual climate check-up. Read the full report here: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/bams-state-of-the-climate/2013.php.

The deep permafrost melt in the Arctic is probably linked with declining spring snow cover in the region, scientists said, highlighting a steady decline in the northern hemisphere’s reflective blanket of high latitude snow — think of the sunshade you use in a car windshield. Continue reading

Climate: Permafrost thaw doubles carbon losses

Study says greening tundra won’t offset permafrost meltdown

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Study says new plant growth won’t compensate for carbon emissions from melting tundra in the Arctic. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Permafrost could dwindle by 30 to 70 percent by the end of the century, and more vegetation in the Arctic won’t be enough to offset the carbon emissions from thawing organic soils.

Scientists with the Woods Hole Research Center reached their conclusions after a series of field tests designed to measure net gains or losses in carbon emissions. The study is published in the journal Ecology.

“Our results show that while permafrost degradation increased carbon uptake during the growing season, in line with decadal trends of ‘greening’ tundra, warming and permafrost thaw also enhanced winter respiration, which doubled annual carbon losses,” said WHRC assistant scientist Sue Natali. Continue reading

Despite global warming, new permafrost forming

New permafrost is forming around Alaska's Twelvemile Lake.

A USGS study finds new permafrost forming near Alaska’s Twelvemile Lake.

Small local variations in temperatures eyed as factor

Staff Report

FRISCO — Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey say they’ve found new patches of permafrost forming in the margins a retreating lake in the interior of Alaska. The findings run counter the conventional wisdom that permafrost will shrink and disappear as the Earth’s climate warms — but don’t jump on the happy train just yet.

The new permafrost patches are small and suggest that the areas of frozen soil are sensitive to small temperature variations and other local factors, the USGS-led study suggests. Especially important is emerging vegetation around the edge of the lake. Thick willows shade the ground to the point that the soil can freeze, the scientists said. Continue reading

Climate models underestimating Arctic permafrost methane emissions

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Methane from melt ponds in the Canadian Arctic are a significant source of greenhouse gases. bberwyn photo.

Study targets small melt ponds in Canadian Arctic

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — When it comes to global warming, size can matter — in unexpected ways — according to scientists who studied methane emissions from thawing permafrost in the Canadian Arctic.

The findings suggest that most climate models are underestimating those emissions, and that including greenhouse gases coming from small thaw ponds could have a significant impact on climate. Continue reading

Study shows rapid retreat of Antarctic permafrost

‘It’s melting faster each time we measure’

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Antarctic permafrost is melting at an accelerating rate. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — While the massive ice cap covering much of Antarctica isn’t likely to melt down anytime soon, the fringes of the frozen continent are showing signs of wear and tear as the planet heats up.

Scientists making long-term measurements of permafrost in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region say permafrost is melting at an accelerating rate. Between 2001 and 2012, the rate rose to about 10 times the valley’s average during the present geologic epoch.

“The big tell here is that the ice is vanishing — it’s melting faster each time we measure,” said Joseph Levy, a research associate at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics. “This is a dramatic shift from recent history,” Levy said, explaining there are no signs in the geologic record that the valley’s ground ice has retreated similarly in the past. Continue reading

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