Sunday, May 31, 2009
How the end of the Cold War has fuelled Arctic warming is detailed in a new report by U.S. scientists that points a finger at Saskatchewan farmers for sending some "black carbon" into the Arctic environment but largely blames Russia for the rising number of smoke plumes drifting north and creating a "critical" challenge for Canada and other polar nations.
The findings were released ahead of an international meeting next week at the University of New Hampshire aimed at curbing the impact of agricultural burning — a problem scientists say has emerged as a major factor in Arctic warming and thinning sea ice."
"These fires weren't part of our standard predictions, they weren't in our models," said Daniel Jacob, a Harvard University climate researcher who participated in a multi-agency U.S. government experiment last spring off the northern coast of Alaska.
Teams of scientists led by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy gathered data on long-range polar pollutants and used NASA's DC-8 "flying laboratory" to sample smoke plumes drifting over Alaska and parts of Arctic Canada.
"What they found surprised them," says the report, Agricultural Fires and Arctic Climate Change, released Wednesday by the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force.
"Over the course of the month, the airplanes encountered up to 50 smoke plumes originating from fires in Eurasia, more than 4,800 kilometres away. Analysis of the plumes, combined with satellite images, revealed the smoke came from agricultural fires in Northern Kazakhstan-Southern Russia and from forest fires in Southern Siberia."
Forest fires have long been identified as a major source of Arctic pollutants, but the study concludes that agricultural fires — typically used to clear stubble from harvested crops and prepare land for the next growing season — are sending more and more smoke northward, warming the Arctic troposphere and then depositing soot on polar snow and sea ice.
The darkened surface reduces the reflective features of the snow and ice and absorbs more heat from the sun, compounding the overall effects of rising temperatures caused by global climate change, the report states.
The study attributes much of the rise in farm-related Arctic pollution to changing land-use practices in post-Soviet Russia and Kazakhstan.
The collapse of the USSR in 1991 brought an end to the socialist command economy that had dominated agricultural production for decades," the report states. "In the absence of state subsidies, the large farming co-operatives that had supported Soviet industrial society were abandoned, leading to the re-growth of vegetation across much of the countryside. As smaller private enterprises emerged, they faced a changed landscape; cultivated fields now existed alongside wild grasslands and dry brush, creating ideal conditions for fire."
The report says the largely unregulated use of agricultural fires in Russia is now responsible for about 80 per cent of the crop-related black carbon reaching the Arctic.
Canada is contributing just over one per cent of the total, the report notes, with most of those agricultural emissions coming from Saskatchewan.
Another U.S. study announced on Wednesday also had bad news for the Arctic.
A University of Florida-led research paper to be published in the journal Nature predicted that thawing Arctic permafrost will pump one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually into the atmosphere by the end of this century.
Although greater plant growth in the warming Arctic will absorb more CO2 and initially balance the effects of melting permafrost, the research shows the increased vegetation won't fully compensate for carbon unlocked from the soil.
"At first, with the plants offsetting the carbon dioxide, it will appear that everything is fine, but actually this conceals the initial destabilization of permafrost carbon," said study co-author Ted Schurr in a statement released by the university. "But it doesn't last, because there is so much carbon in the permafrost that eventually the plants can't keep up."
A third study — on projected sea-level rises caused by melting Arctic ice — identified coastal cities in the northeast corner of North America, including Halifax, New York and Boston, as the places most likely to face adverse effects.
The study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research at the University of Colorado incorporated forecasted effects from melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet with earlier predictions about overall increases in ocean levels caused by global warming.
The study, to be published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that continued moderate melting of Greenland's ice cap would shift Atlantic Ocean circulation by the end this century and cause sea levels in northeastern Canada and the U.S. to increase between 30 and 51 centimetres more than in other coastal zones.
"If the Greenland melt continues to accelerate, we could see significant impacts this century on the northeast U.S. coast from the resulting sea level rise," said NCAR scientist Aixue Hu. "Major northeastern cities are directly in the path of the greatest rise."
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Thoughts worth thinking about
Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia
A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed
Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein
The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi
The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller
Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns
Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama
Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw
Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165
The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.