Saved by a warmer Arctic?

16 - 1(43).jpg

Chocolate lilies already blooming in an unusually warm Anchorage/Craig Medred photo


A group of scientists working in Alaska has stirred the global-warming debate by theorizing that a warmer, greener Arctic might help to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the so-called “greenhouse gas” given off by respiration and combustion. Rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have been blamed on the vast quantities of coal and oil humans have burned in homes, factories and machinery since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Fears have grown that because of the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere, the planet could become uninhabitably hot in the future (worst case scenario) or humans could be forced into migrations from heavily populated coastal communities (New York, Los Angeles, Seattle) because of rising ocean waters due to the melting of glaciers.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists studying vegetative grow in Alaska, however, have concluded that plants flourishing in a warming 49th state might help buffer these deleterious effects.

“Our analysis indicates that upland and wetland ecosystems would be (storage) sinks for greenhouse gases for all simulations during the projection period,” they conclude in a 208-page reported edited by Zhiliang Zhu and A. David McGuire.

USGS Professional Paper 1826 – “Baseline and Projected Future Carbon Storage and Greenhouse-Gas Fluxes in Ecosystems of Alaska” – has so far received little national attention, though the Washington Post tiptoed into the debate today.

In a story headlined, “Alaska’s huge climate mystery – and its global consequences,” reporter Chris Mooney spent three paragraphs outlining the fears of a carbon release from Alaska permafrost – “the amounts of carbon involved are enormous” – before revealing “a major and surprising new report.”

The report, he then wrote, “would appear to undercut, significantly, this worry, at least for one key northern region: the U.S. state of Alaska. In the process, the document raises deep questions about what the true carbon consequences of Alaska’s ongoing warming will be — a mystery whose solution may also implicate still greater carbon stores across Arctic regions in Canada and Siberia.”

What the report says is that Alaska’s warming Arctic is now pulling more CO2 out of the atmosphere than the region is producing, and that the most predictable, long-term prognosis is that this trend will only increase as the region greens and warms.

“For those who have been following the climate debate closely, it’s an unexpected conclusion — and one that climate change skeptics and doubters might trumpet as a classic case of an alarmist climate scenario not coming to pass after all,” Mooney writes. “If you dig down into the fine print, though, there remain many uncertainties — and many continuing reasons for concern about what will happen to stored carbon in Alaska and across the frozen north.”

About the latter statement there is no doubt. The are a whole lot of uncertainties surrounding climate change.




Leave a Reply