We are close to a climatic tipping point, reports Michael Marshall at New Scientist. If the global climate warms just one more degree Fahrenheit, says a new Oxford University study, much of the Siberian permafrost will start melting uncontrollably, releasing large amounts of the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, further accelerating global warming. The Arctic is warming faster than elsewhere, and is home to enormous stores of organic carbon, in the form of permafrost soils and icy clathrates that trap methane. In Siberia, a large area, called Yedoma, could undergo runaway decomposition once it starts to melt, because microbes in the soil would eat the carbon and produce heat, melting more soil and releasing ever more greenhouse gases. So once it starts, there may be no stopping it. The study found that stalagmites grow in caves near permafrost when overhead permafrost melts, which last happened when the Earth was about one degree Fahrenheit warmer than it is now. Currently, Earth continues to warm as humanity burns ever more fossil fuels. Recent studies show that the melting Arctic has already started to emit methane.
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Major methane release is almost inevitable. If the global climate warms another few tenths of a degree, a large expanse of the Siberian permafrost will start to melt uncontrollably. The result: a significant amount of extra greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, and a threat to the infrastructure that carries natural gas from Russia to Europe. New Scientist http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23205-major-methane-release-is-almost-inevitable.html
The study: Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1228729