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Consequences of a Thawing Tundra

Don Wyeth

Consequences of a Thawing Tundra

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2 mins
September 1, 2020

When Wisconsin folks talk about the ‘tundra’, they are naturally referring to the frozen gridiron of The Green Bay Packers. But in a broader sense, the term is used to describe a living biome (biological system) which has a low, year-round temperatures and short growing season not conducive to the growth of trees. Tundras are found in areas just below the arctic ice cap in North America, Europe, and Siberia. A good amount of Alaska and over one half of the land in Canada are tundra biomes. “Polar climates like the tundra are characterized by very cold temperatures and generally dry conditions. Temperatures never rise above 10o C (50oF) during the summer. The tundra located near the Arctic and Antarctic Circle, experiences times when the Sun never rises above the horizon.” earthobservatory.nasa.gov › biome › biotundra. 

Unfortunately, these regions, which are experiencing record temperature increases due to climate change, are becoming unstable in ways that accelerate global warming. This consequence is referred to as a feedback loop. “[A] feedback [loop] occurs when outputs of a system are routed back as inputs as part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop. The system can then be said to feed back into itself.” Wikipedia.com. In the case of the warming tundra, potential greenhouse gases, such as methane, which up until recently have lain frozen in the ground as methyl hydride, are now being released into the atmosphere. Methane in its gaseous state becomes a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 84 times greater than CO2. 

Consequently, the basal temperature of the earth is increased at a rate much higher than caused by CO2 alone. In our current scenario, without intervention, the accumulation of greenhouse gases will continue to spiral upwards, exacerbating further warming. “An increase in the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases produces a positive climate forcing, or warming effect. From 1990 to 2015, the total warming effect from greenhouse gases added by humans to the Earth's atmosphere increased by 37 percent.” 

   According to experts from the World Meteorological Organization, without immediate reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, this feedback loop will most certainly have a destructive effect on all life on Earth. “The window of opportunity for action is almost closed,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. The science indicates that the last time Earth experienced these concentrations of greenhouse gases was 5,000,000 years ago. In that time, the average temperature was 3°C warmer with consequential sea levels of 10 to 20m higher than present. 

I can honestly say, based on current figures, the handwriting is on the wall.


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Don Wyeth

Passionate and intelligent columnist from Madison, WI.

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