Sergei Zimov bends down, picks up a handful of mud and holds it up to his nose. It smells like a cow patty, but he knows better. "It smells like mammoth dung," he says. This is more than just another symptom of global warming.
For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost. Now, climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.
But Zimov, chief scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences' North Eastern Scientific station, three plane rides and eight times zones away from Moscow, believes that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air, it will accelerate global warming faster than even some of the most pessimistic forecasts. "This will lead to a type of global warming that will be impossible to stop," he said.
When the organic matter left behind by mammoths and other wildlife is exposed to the air by the thawing permafrost, his theory goes, microbes that have been dormant for thousands of years spring back into action. They emit carbon dioxide as a byproduct and -- even more damaging in terms of its impact on the climate -- methane gas.
Zimov, who has studied climate change in Russia's Arctic for almost 30 years, says the microbes are going to start emitting these gases in enormous quantities....
I reproduce below a report from 16 Jan 2006
SIBERIANS SHIVER IN RECORD COLD
Record low temperatures were felt in western Siberia over the weekend, with temperatures in the Tomsk region reported at minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit and lower. "This morning people felt Arctic weather," a local meteorologist told the Interfax news agency Friday. A state of emergency was declared in the Tomsk region, where at least one man died because of the cold and hospitals treated dozens of people daily for cold-related health problems, while public transportation and electricity supplies were disrupted, The Moscow Times reported Monday. In the Novosibirsk region, temperatures fell to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit -- the lowest in 100 years. In the city of Krasnoyarsk, celebrations for the Russian holiday known as Old New Year's Eve were canceled Friday after temperatures were also predicted to fall to minus 40. In the Komi-Permyatsky autonomous district, where temperatures were as low as minus 49 Fahrenheit, 85 people -- mostly preschoolers -- were evacuated from a settlement after a heating system serving 600 residents failed, Interfax reported Saturday. There was some good news, however: Scientists in the Tyumen region said the thousands of school closures across Siberia would reduce the spread of an expected flu epidemic among schoolchildren.
So what is going on? Simple: Siberia is affected by a regular climate cycle called the Arctic Oscillation. So its temperature can vary considerably from year to year. There is no evidence of an overall change beyond the changes due to the oscillation. Read all about it here and here
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