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$60 Trillion Melting Away
By Michael Schweibinz

You don’t hear too much about the East Siberian Sea, but as the Arctic’s permanently frozen ground (permafrost) melts, this marginal sea may become a widespread media topic.

Over a trillion tons of methane (in the form of methane hydrates) is stored in the Arctic Ocean's icy marine sediments. As the ocean warms, and the ice coverage diminishes, the frozen deposits thaw, and methane is released.

It’s an “economic time bomb,” said Gail Whiteman, of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the lead author of a study published in the July 24, 2013 issue of the journal, Nature.

Indeed, the environmental and economic consequences could be catastrophic. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas—20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. An unexpected Arctic methane release of only 50 billion tons could be catastrophic and “would hasten this century’s predicted 3.6-degree Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) global temperature rise by 15 to 35 years.”

Rising sea levels are commonly talked about; however, other global costs would include more extreme weather events, crop damage, and poorer health.

Study co-author, Chris Hope, an economist at the University of Cambridge, has determined that it does not really matter if all of the gas is released at once, or over a 30-year span, the result will be the same—the average global economic impact is close to $60 trillion.

 

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Posted: August 28, 2013