Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Leaking Siberian ice raises a 'tricky' climate issue

| December 6, 2010 8:00 PM

This past week, David Clark sent me this interesting Yahoo news story entitled, "Leaking Siberian Ice Raises a 'Tricky' Climate Issue."

Remember, despite what Jeff Bourget and others say, it remains my climatological opinion that we are in the strongest cycle of WIDE WEATH-ER 'EXTREMES' in at least 1,000 years, since the days of Leif Ericsson, the great Norse Chieftain.

These wild weather events are being caused by huge widely-opposing air masses associated with both global warming and global cooling and alternating cycles of sea-surface temperatures and 'fickle' solar activity.

Here's are brief excerpts from that Yahoo story:

"The Russian scientist shuffles across the frozen lake, scuffing aside ankle-deep snow until he finds a cluster of bubbles trapped under the ice. With a cigarette lighter in one hand and a knife in the other, he lances the ice like a blister. Methane whooshes out and bursts into a thin blue flame."

Gas locked inside Siberia's frozen soil and under its lakes has been seeping out since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. But in the past few decades, as the Earth has warmed, the icy ground has begun thawing more rapidly, accelerating the release of methane - a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide - at a perilous rate.

Some scientists believe the thawing of permafrost could become the epicenter of climate change. They say 1.5 trillion tons of carbon, locked inside icebound earth since the age of mammoths, is a climate time bomb waiting to explode if released into the atmosphere. But, this climatologist believes that naturally occurring methane is an even bigger threat to the planet.

Climate change moved back to center-stage on Nov. 29 when governments met in Cancun, Mexico, to try again to thrash out a course of counteractions. But U.N. officials hold out no hope the two weeks of talks will lead to a legally binding accord governing carbon emissions, seen is the key to averting what is feared might be a dramatic change in climate this century.

Most climate scientists, with a few dissenters, like yours truly, say human activities - the stuff of daily life like driving cars, producing electricity or raising cattle - is overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that trap heat, causing a warming effect.

"But global warming is amplified in the polar regions. What feels like a modest temperature rise is enough to induce Greenland glaciers to retreat, Arctic sea ice to thin and contract in summer, and permafrost to thaw faster, both on land and under the seabed."

But, again it is the opinion of this climatologist that this warming is merely a natural recurring cycle, mostly a summer season event.

We are actually seeing record cold temperatures this late fall across Siberia in Russia. It was -60 degrees Celsius (-68 degrees Fahrenheit) in late November at one station, an all-time record low for so early in the winter season.

At these bitterly cold readings, exposed skin will freeze in minutes, in some cases, in seconds.

Besides, the Arctic regions as a whole absorb more carbon dioxide than they release. This is a methane problem, extremely complex, very confusing.

I'll have more details on this 'tricky' climate issue in a future column.


The all-time record November snowfall total in Coeur d'Alene of a whopping 38.3 inches was nearly five times the monthly normal since 1895 of 7.8 inches and almost nine times the puny 4.5 inches that we gauged last year during El Nino in 2009.

We had easily doubled by early December our entire meager snowfall total for the winter of 2009-10 of 18.4 inches. The 40 inches of snow by Thursday, Dec. 2, was almost half of the 81.3 inches for this La Nina-enhanced winter of 2010-11 that I predicted in October. I may have to raise that snowfall total to near 100 inches, if we reach 60 inches, five feet, by Dec. 31. Time will tell.

I don't see nearly as much snow during the second half of this winter season, especially if La Nina warms a bit in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Again, only time will tell.

I may also be forced to raise Spokane's 2010-11 snowfall projections, if the 'Lilac City' reaches 40 inches or more by December 31 for this season. Spokane normally receives about 46 inches of snow in an average winter, and only measured a scant 14 inches last season in 2009-10, again due to El Nino's warmth and the main Pacific storm track going through California and the Desert Southwest rather than into our part of the country like the current snowy pattern.

Spokane likewise had its snowiest November since at least 1890 with an incredible 25.9 inches, breaking the 1955 record of 24.7 inches. One station in Rathdrum gauged 51 inches of the white stuff this November, also a record.

In the near-term, I see another major stowstorm arriving in the North Country later this 'new moon' cycle week between Thursday and Saturday. There may be some mixed precipitation in the lowest elevations as afternoon temperatures rise into the mid 30s. Be careful. There will be lots of ICE!

Cliff Harris is a climatologist who writes a weekly column for The Press. His opinions are his own. E-mail sfharris@roadrunner.com

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