Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Are we at a tipping point?

I have been reading New Scientist (31 March 2012) and some of it was very alarming! 
In the report on the Planet Under Pressure conference in London, it is mentioned that Euan Nisbet, of Royal Holloway University London warned that warming ocean currents east of Greenland were melting ice in the seabed, which could (as happened off Norway about 8000 years ago in a similar geological setting) trigger landslides on the region's steep submarines slopes therby causing tsunamis capable of reaching the UK and (this is the scary bit) releasing methane which could amplify global warming, a la  Clathrate Gun Hypothesis

Tim Lenton of Univesity of Exeter who has carried out a day by day assessment of Arctic ice cover data collected since 1979 (when satellite observation began) presented his findings showing that while up until 2007 sea ice systematically fluctuated between winter and summer cover, since 2007 the difference between summer and winter sea ice cover has been a million square kilometres greater than it was before.  This means less reflection of sunlight as the sea water has a lower albedo and therefore more warming. 

While there seems to be some positive news in the posssibility highlighted  by Peter Cox from the University of Exeter of reducing our methane emissions and Methane's role in influencing CO2 absorption.  He is said to have calculated that a 40% reduction in human-caused methane emissions would permit the release of an extra 550 gigatonnes of CO2 before we exceed 2 degrees C warming, buying us an extra 15 years at current emission rates.  Reduction of methane seems possible at relatively low cost. 

What this is saying to me is that we are approaching or at a tipping point.  We do not have the time to wait until 2020 for a global climate treaty or "business as usual". 
Yet when you consider Cairn Energy's determination to continue exploration off Greenland and the expansion of their North Sea presence, along with the UK Govt's £3.5 billion in the budget for offshore drilling in the North Sea this is exactly what seems to be happening.
 In our time of economic woe and with the concentration on the Olympics we must not lose sight of the real priority. 

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