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New data shows that Siberian permafrost is thawing

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While there has been a sense of alarm over the melting of the polar ice caps, an even more worrisome development is the thaw of the Siberian permafrost. New evidence from the Siberian caves suggests that a global temperature rise of 1.5C could see permafrost thaw over a large area of Siberia . a trillion tons of the greenhouse gases CO2 and methane could be released into the atmosphere as a result.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The news comes with the analysis of stalactites and stalagmites in caves along the "permafrost frontier." Permafrost is when the ground begins to be permanently frozen in layers that can be tens to hundreds of meters thick.

Stalactites and stalagmites only grow when liquid rainwater and snowmelt drip into the caves. These formations record 500,000 years of changing permafrost conditions, including warmer periods similar to the climate of present times.

Records from a particularly warm period called Marine Isotopic Stage 11, of around 400,000 years ago; suggest that warming of 1.5C compared to the present is enough to cause substantial thawing of permafrost. This includes areas far north from its present-day southern limit.

"The stalactites and stalagmites from these caves are a way of looking back in time to see how warm periods similar to our modern climate affect how far permafrost extends across Siberia," Dr. Anton Vaks from the University of Oxford says.

"As permafrost covers 24 percent of the land surface of the Northern Hemisphere, significant thawing could affect vast areas and release (billions of tons) of carbon."

"This has huge implications for ecosystems in the region, and for aspects of the human environment.

"For instance, natural gas facilities in the region, as well as power lines, roads, railways and buildings are all built on permafrost and are vulnerable to thawing. Such a thaw could damage this infrastructure with obvious economic implications," Vaks says.

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