Year 4, Month 7, Day 16: GBKW

I don’t have any good news, unfortunately. The Toronto Star addresses melting permafrost, calling it a “Time Bomb”:

…the physical changes already seen in northern landscape is telling, said Dr. Merritt Turetsky, a University of Guelph ecologist who participated in the permafrost study.

“The (International Panel on Climate Change) outlined several scenarios and we are exceeding the worst case scenario,” she said.

Turetsky began her research on Canadian permafrost in the late 1990s. Over the last decade, she travelled to a number of permafrost sites in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories — and she’s seen the melting permafrost drastically change the landscape.

“In that short time, the transformations are quite drastic,” she said. “It literally turns a forest into a semi-aquatic pool . . . vegetation starts to slump, thaw and sink into the ground. Trees start to pitch. This is causing the landscape to change in ways that most of the community hasn’t quite recognized yet.”

She said “collapse scars,” where trees and other types of vegetation slump over and sink into ponds, are becoming an increasingly common sight across the Canadian North.

In Inuvik, Rodgers said the town has experienced “permafrost stumpage” over the last several years — eroding roadsides and ditches dug in the permafrost that quickly transform into large, gaping holes.

Turetsky said the risks posed by permafrost remain high if human-made greenhouse gases remain on pace.

With nearly half of the country covered by permafrost, the impact will reach beyond already affected northern communities in the coming decades if scientists’ predictions are accurate.

Turetsky said a limit on human-made emissions could help keep some carbon frozen in the permafrost, but added that she fears an enormous amount of damage has already been done.

“The analogy is that it’s a big train about to derail,” she said. “Once it begins, permafrost thaw occurs slowly but you can’t stop it. That lack of control makes anybody feel nervous.”

I do love this world with all its beauty and all its music. So sorry to see it go. June 28:

The language of scientific discourse tends away from emotional intensity. Even the most alarming of conclusions is couched in affectively neutral terms; a scientific description of the Hindenburg disaster might run something like “a near-instantaneous hydroxygen combustion reaction triggered the ignition of carbon compounds, leading to destruction of vehicular infrastructure and a statistically significant mortality rate.” Oh, the humanity.

This detached tone demands careful scrutiny, especially when the subject is something as potentially devastating as melting Arctic permafrost, which could release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a geological eyeblink. When an ecological scientist like Dr. Merritt Turetsky uses phrases like “drastic transformations” and “a big train about to derail,” the rest of us need to recognize that her measured words are the scientific way of shouting “FIRE!”

Ignoring the climate crisis would be the costliest mistake our civilization ever makes.

Warren Senders

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