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Submitted by James P. Louviere on
Today's worldbank blog is focused and astute in its assumption that because of the severe effects of the volcanic ash from Iceland, more funding will probably be directed toward assessing the effects of aerosols, both natural and human-caused, on earth's atmosphere and therefore on earth's climate. Today's news also mentions the fact that lakes and permafrost in northern regions are melding. Little or no mention of the disastrous effect release of methane from clathrates at the bottom of cold lakes and in permafrost is made, but methane, locked in the web-like clathrates which consist of water and methane molecules cooled and frozen in a stable embrace, is a real menace. Many times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, the amount of methane trapped in permafrost and cold lakes, rivers and seas is unknown, but is estimated to one of the chief sequestrations of carbon on earth. (Methane's formula is CH4, carbon dioxide is CO2, so carbon is present both substances.) Of major importance is the "loop" effect that causes a snowballing of warming, to mix metaphors. As soot, dark volcanic ash, and other factors contribute to the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, earth's albido (reflective ability) decreases, and the darker lands and waters underneath the ice are exposed, allowing more sunlight to be absorbed as heat. This in turn releases more and more methane from clathrates. The result is accelerated warming due to the increase in the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The process in self-augmenting. Unless we can reduce the greenhouse effect, such "forcings" will continue. Biologists tell us that within a few decades, perhaps 80 percent of known species of flora and fauna will be extinct because natural adaptations to new climatic conditions take many generations in larger species, and due to self-augmenting "loops" creating even accelerating warming, we can expect climate changes to become so rapid that many species will not have time to adapt within their lifetimes, and thus will perish in the warmer environment. Coral reefs and their amazing array of inhabitants are just one of the environmental niches that are already "bleaching" (dying), and are very sensitive to warming. All signs point to grave consequences. No pun intended.