Thursday, February 28, 2013

Siberian Cave

New evidence from Siberian caves suggests that a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius could see a thaw in permafrost, potentially releasing further amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

In what appears to be the vicious circle of climate change- the warming of land in Siberia has the potential to release over 1000 giga-tonnes of CO2 and CH4 (Methane) into the atmosphere. 

The data comes from an international team led by Oxford University Scientists looking at stalactites and stalagmites in caves located along Siberia’s permafrost frontier. By analysing the rock formations (using chemical analysis and radiometric dating techniques); which are the result of liquid rainwater and snow dripping into the cave, the researchers are able to analyse 500,000 years of changing permafrost conditions. The team are particularly interested in a warm period which occurred some 400,000 years ago that suggests a global temperature increase of just 1.5 degrees is enough to cause substantial thawing.

Aside from the environmental problems associated with the sudden release of carbon, there is also a significant risk with regard infrastructure. 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. Some 24% of the Northern hemisphere is covered by permafrost - but it looks that this figure may reduce significantly in the coming years. 

Image is an Icy grotto in Baikal, Olkhon Island, Siberia. (Credit: © katvic / Fotolia)

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