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Release of methane in arctic could have disastrous economic consequences

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The release of large amounts of methane from thawing permafrost in the Arctic could have huge economic impacts for the world, scientists warn. It has been estimated that the climate effects of the release of this gas could cost $60 trillion, roughly the size of the global economy in 2012. The impact is most likely to be felt in developing countries.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Scientists have had concerns about the impact of rising temperatures on permafrost for many years. The diminishing ice cover in the East Siberian sea has allowed waters to warm with the methane leaching out. Plumes of methane gas, up to a kilometer in diameter has been recorded rising from these waters.

Researchers have previously tried to estimate the economic price on the climate damage that these emissions of methane would create. While it lasts less than a decade in the atmosphere, methane is a very volatile gas in the earth's atmosphere.

Researchers used an economic model very similar to the one used by Lord Stern in his 2006 review of the economics of climate change in their report. Examining the release of 50-gigatonnes of methane over a decade, scholars worked out that this would increase climate impacts such as flooding, sea level rise, and damage to agriculture and human health to the tune of $60 trillion.

"That's an economic time bomb that at this stage has not been recognized on the world stage," Professor Gail Whiteman at Erasmus University in the Netherlands says.

"We think it's incredibly important for world leaders to really discuss what are the implications of this methane release and what could we indeed do about it to hopefully prevent the whole burst from happening."

It's believed as much as 30 percent of the world's undiscovered gas and 13 percent of undiscovered oil lie in these waters. Transport companies are looking to send increasing numbers of ships through these fast melting seas.

According to the more recent studies, these benefits would be a fraction of the likely costs of a large scale methane emission. Authors of the study say a release of methane on this scale could bring forward the date when global temperatures increase by 2 centigrade by between 15 and 35 years.

New research suggests that permafrost is also melting in Antarctica. Scientists have found that ground ice in the McMurdo Dry Valley Regions has accelerated consistently between 2001 and 2012, rising to about ten times the historical average.

"We are looking at a big effect," Professor Peter Wadhams from the University of Cambridge says, "a possibly catastrophic effect on global climate that's a consequence of this extremely fast sea ice retreat that's been happening in recent years."

Some scientists have cautioned that not enough is known about the likelihood of such a rapid release of methane. Even though it has been detected for a number of years, it has as yet not been found in the atmosphere in large amounts.

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