Geoengineering Update – Proposals for Dealing with Arctic Methane Permafrost Release

For the last two weeks here in Toronto the temperature has been abnormally warm. Today, March 19, 2012, we will see late May, early June daytime high temperatures. This is the second winter in the last three to produce a winter that by Toronto standards can only be called balmy. Which brings me to the topic at hand – the warming of our northerly extremes and the potential release of methane bound up in permafrost.

In a proposal to British parliamentarians in the last week, Stephen Salter, an engineer at Edinburgh University, proposed constructing 100 towers for pumping seawater into the atmosphere to create clouds to reflect solar energy into space and cool the Arctic.

Artificially inducing cloud cover is one proposal being suggested by engineers to deal with a warming Arctic. In this picture the towers installed on ships moored in Arctic waters spray seawater into the upper atmosphere.

With Arctic Sea ice melts increasing each year saltwater temperatures in the north are rising rapidly. Dr. Slater noted that in 2007 the water off the northern Siberian coast warmed to 5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit). The warming at sea is impacting permafrost in the seabed and in the adjacent land. Permafrost contains methane and methane is more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Climatologists believe that abrupt methane releases 55 and 251 million years ago played a significant role in mass extinctions. A large methane release from the permafrost in Siberia, northern Canada and the Arctic sea bed could lead to an average temperature rise between 5 and 9 degrees Celsius (9 to 16 Fahrenheit) in Arctic regions.

Geoengineering is often not considered seriously when talking about climate change. Governments look at policies related to reducing carbon emissions as the primary way to mitigate global warming. But we may have to do a combination of both or learn to live with a radically altered North.

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery.