July 25, 2013
Release Of Arctic Methane Could Cost $60T
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
An Arctic methane 'time bomb' brought about by rapidly thinning permafrost could cost the world up to $60 Trillion, the size of the entire global economy, a group of economists and polar scientists warned on Tuesday.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, although it lasts less than a decade in the atmosphere. Large amounts of the gas are concentrated in the frozen Arctic tundra, and are also found as semi-solid gas hydrates under the sea. Scientists say the release of this trapped methane could lead to extreme weather, flooding and droughts that would impact developing countries the hardest.
In the current study, researchers estimated the economic costs of the climate damage these methane emissions would cause.
Using an economic model similar to the one used by Nicholas Stern in his 2006 review of the economics of climate change, the researchers assessed the impact of the release of 50-gigatons of methane over a period of ten years.
They determined that this would increase climate impacts such as flooding, damage to agriculture and human health that would cost up to $60 trillion.
Nearly 80% of the economic impacts, by value, would occur in the poorer economies of Africa, Asia and South America, the researchers said.
"We think its incredibly important for world leaders to really discuss what are the implications of this methane release and what could we indeed do about it to hopefully prevent the whole burst from happening."
The researchers note that global economic organizations have not taken into account the risks of rapid ice melt, and have only considered the economic impacts of possible oil spills.
"Neither the World Economic Forum nor the International Monetary Fund currently recognize the economic danger of Arctic change," Whiteman said in a statement. They must "pay much more attention to this invisible time-bomb."
The researchers say their study reveals a more pessimistic outlook than previous assessments of the economic costs of Arctic warming.
Moreover, a large release of Arctic methane would bring forward the date when global temperatures increase by two degrees Celsius between 15 and 35 years, said Chris Hope, a reader in policy modeling at Cambridge Judge Business School and one of the study's researchers.
The United Nations has called for governments to act to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees.
"We are looking at a big effect," study author Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, told BBC News reporter Matt McGrath. "A possibly catastrophic effect on global climate that's a consequence of this extremely fast sea ice retreat that's been happening in recent years."
Some scientists have said that too much is still unknown about the likelihood of a rapid release of methane, arguing that large amounts of the gas have not yet been detected in the atmosphere.
But Wadhams said the evidence is growing.
"We are seeing increasing methane in the atmosphere. When you look at satellite imagery, for instance the Metop satellite, that's gone up significantly in the last three years and the place where the increase is happening most is over the Arctic."
The researchers said the consequences of vanishing Arctic ice would also be felt in other areas of the world because the region is critical to the functioning of oceans and climate.
"Inundation of low-lying areas, extreme heat stress, droughts and storms are all magnified by the extra methane emissions," the researchers told The Guardian.
"The imminent disappearance of the summer sea ice in the Arctic will have enormous implications for both the acceleration of climate change, and the release of methane from off-shore waters which are now able to warm up in the summer," Wadhams added.
Satellite data gathered from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado this week show that ice loss is now accelerating and approaching last year's record melt.
The current study was published online July 24 in the journal Nature.