Here are 2011’s most profoundly doom-laden stories, chosen arbitrarily by Des. Last year, this feature was The Twelve Doomiest Stories of 2010, to evoke “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, but twelve stories just aren’t enough to capture the zeitgeist of doom that permeated the year.
Nuclear meltdowns at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi plant and the resulting widespread radioactive fallout dominated the doomscape for months, much as BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster dominated 2010. Desdemona figures that we can count on one huge technogenic catastrophe per year, as civilization slides down the energy-production curve and loses the ability to maintain its complex, aging infrastructure.
2011 was a bad year for the Amazon basin, with illegal deforestation spiking as farmers anticipated government pardons. The Belo Monte dam was approved, as a “green” form of energy production for Brazil; it will destroy 400 square kilometers of rainforest. Conservation activists were murdered.
But climate disasters comprised the overwhelming majority of doom stories in 2011, with reports of species extinctions and agricultural failures from all over the globe. Record droughts and floods struck a number of nations, with La Niña getting much of the blame, and 2011 saw increasing acceptance of the idea that the global climate is changing rapidly before our eyes. Pakistan was hit with another round of record monsoon flooding, adding to the misery from 2010. More ominously, global civilization has been unable to muster the necessary humanitarian response, implying that we’ve passed Peak Humanitarian Aid. The long drought in East Africa continued to drag on, creating huge refugee flows and killing endangered wildlife across a wide swath of the continent. Texas experienced record agricultural losses and depopulation as the ongoing drought makes the center of the state uninhabitable.
Paradoxically, American concern about global warming is continuously declining, with both Gallup and Nielsen releasing 2011 poll results that show for the first time less than 50% of Americans are concerned about global warming. The fossil fuel industry’s relentless propaganda campaign against climate science seems to be having the desired effect. Ignorance is self-reinforcing, so we were treated to the embarrassing spectacle of the global warming episode of BBC's Frozen Planet documentary withdrawn from the U.S. market due to widespread American denialism.
Near the end of 2011, humans met to talk about doing something to avert the worst of the accelerating climate catastrophe, but short-sighted, nationalistic concerns again ruled the day, sealing our doom.
The abundance of four common species of bumblebee in the US has dropped by 96% in just the past few decades, according to the most comprehensive national census of the insects. Scientists said the alarming decline, which could have devastating implications for the pollination of both wild and farmed plants, was likely to be a result of disease and low genetic diversity in bee populations.
Floods and mudslides in Brazil have killed more than 330 people, with more feared dead after three towns just north of Rio De Janeiro were hit on Wednesday, 12 January 2011.
Meanwhile, heavy monsoon rains on Wednesday kept Sri Lanka’s president from visiting areas inundated by flooding that has killed 18 people, forced 196,000 from their homes across a third of the nation, and threatened food supply. Nearly a fifth of Sri Lanka’s rice paddies are either destroyed or under standing water that could wipe out the crop, the Agriculture Ministry said, raising concerns over supply shocks and higher food inflation for Sri Lanka’s staple food.
Meanwhile, at least 30 people may have been killed and about 1,000 homes damaged by floods in South Africa in the past week, a government estimate showed on Wednesday.
Sustained heavy rain and floods in the central and southern Philippines have killed 42 people and damaged crops and infrastructure worth more than 1 billion pesos ($23 million), disaster officials said on Thursday.
Around 250 million years ago, about 95 per cent of life was wiped out in the sea and 70 per cent on land. Researchers at the University of Calgary believe they have discovered evidence to support massive volcanic eruptions burnt significant volumes of coal, producing ash clouds that had broad impact on global oceans.
Integrated assessment models (IAMs) used by researchers today – where climate change data is integrated with economic data – are dangerously flawed because they are based on naïve assumptions, according to Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change at the University of Manchester, UK.
"The output from today's models is politically palatable," said Anderson. "The reality is far more depressing, but many scientists are too afraid to stand up and speak out for fear of being ridiculed. Our job is not to be liked but to give a raw and dispassionate assessment of the scale of the challenge faced by the global community."
In August 2010, a group of conservation agencies launched the Search for Lost Frogs, which employed 126 researchers to scour 21 countries for 100 amphibian species, some of which have not been seen for decades. After five months, expeditions found 4 amphibians out of the 100 targets, highlighting the likelihood that most of the remaining species are in fact extinct.
Amphibians have been devastated over the last few decades; highly sensitive to environmental impacts, species have been hard hit by deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, agricultural chemicals, overexploitation for food, climate change, and a devastating fungal disease, chytridiomycosis. Researchers say that in the past 30 years, it’s likely that 120 amphibian species have been lost forever.
Increasing drought and aridity around the world, linked to climate change and land degradation, are becoming a major threat to food security and poverty reduction efforts, according to the United Nations’ anti-desertification chief.
Since 1950, 1.9 billion hectares (4.7 billion acres) of land around the world has become degraded, a problem that has reduced harvests, contributed to changing rainfall patterns and increased the vulnerability of millions of people, Gnacadja said. Each year, on average, another 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of land a year is lost to the problem, he added.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi, a top-category storm, ripped through Australia's northeast tourist coast Thursday, 2 February 2011, levelling houses and decimating crops as it hit land near the city of Cairns, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.
“As we heat the oceans through global warming, we are increasing the frequency of mega cyclones like Yasi … which potentially, given (the) circumstances, can have really big impacts on coral reefs, reducing their ability to bounce back. … The same thing -- the heating of the water -- is going to increase coral bleaching which will knock out the reef in the long term anyway."
A survey of oyster habitats around the world found that the succulent mollusks are disappearing fast and 85 percent of their reefs have been lost due to disease and over-harvesting. Most of the remaining wild oysters in the world, or about 75 percent, can be found in five locations in North America.
New research shows that the 2010 Amazon drought may have been even more devastating to the region's rainforests than the unusual 2005 drought, which was previously billed as a one-in-100 year event.
Analyses of rainfall across 5.3 million square kilometers of Amazonia during the 2010 dry season, published in Science, shows that the drought was more widespread and severe than in 2005. The UK-Brazilian team also calculate that the carbon impact of the 2010 drought may eventually exceed the 5 billion tonnes of CO2 released following the 2005 event, as severe droughts kill rainforest trees. For context, the United States emitted 5.4 billion tonnes of CO2 from fossil fuel use in 2009.
Workers at Japan's stricken nuclear plant are reportedly being offered huge sums to brave high radiation and bring its overheated reactors under control, as plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, battles to stop a spreading contamination crisis which could see another 130,000 people forced to leave their homes.
"There is a high possibility that there has been at least some melting of the fuel rods," said Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
The share of the population that is working fell to its lowest level last year since women started entering the workforce in large numbers three decades ago, a USA TODAY analysis finds. Only 45.4% of Americans had jobs in 2010, the lowest rate since 1983 and down from a peak of 49.3% in 2000. Last year, just 66.8% of men had jobs, the lowest on record.
Numbers of Chinstrap and Adélie penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula region have dropped by more than 50 percent in the last 30 years, driven mainly by dramatic declines in supplies of tiny, shrimp-like krill, their main prey, says a new study.
Krill, meanwhile, have declined by 40 to 80 percent, due primarily to rapidly warming temperatures in the area – the South Shetland Islands near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and nearby sites.
This is one of the fastest-warming places on the planet with winter mean temperatures some 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer now than in pre-industrial times.
As radioisotopes pour into the sea from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, one reassuring message has been heard over and over again: the Pacific Ocean is a big place.
The past two weeks have seen extremely high concentrations of radioactive iodine-131 (with a half life of 8 days) and caesium-137 (which has a half life of 30 years) in samples of sea water collected near the Fukushima reactors, and even as far as 30 kilometres offshore. By late March, levels were tens of thousands of times higher than before the accident (see 'Radioisotope contamination'). Many other radioisotopes, both long- and short-lived, are also likely to have been released.
Japan raised the severity level of the accident at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to the maximum 7 on an international scale, up from the current 5 and matching that of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.
Populations of wildlife species in the world-renowned Masai Mara reserve in Kenya have crashed in the past three decades, according to research published in the Journal of Zoology.
Numbers of impala, warthog, giraffe, topi, and Coke's hartebeest have declined by over 70%, say scientists.
Even fewer survive beyond the reserve in the wider Mara, where buffalo and wild dogs have all but disappeared, while huge numbers of wildebeest no longer pass through the region on their epic migration.
However, numbers of cattle grazing in the reserve have increased by more than 1100% per cent, although it is illegal for them to so do.
Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.
In 2010, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.
A deadly trio of factors - warming, acidification, and lack of oxygen - is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth's history, the panel warned.
The combined effects of these stressors are causing degeneration in the ocean that is "far faster than anyone has predicted," the scientists report.
The nuclear plant at Japan's Fukushima may be leaking radiation, but people are still going there daily to look for employment where about 2,200 of the 2,500 working there are subcontractors.
In the last three months, at least eight workers have been exposed to high levels of radiation and removed from duty but this has not deterred others.
It's a vocation with little job security, few benefits, and no insurance for injuries or radiation poisoning but many are still lining up.
Fluctuations in climate can drastically affect the habitability of marine ecosystems, according to a new study by UCLA scientists that examined the expansion and contraction of low-oxygen zones in the ocean.
The UCLA research team, led by assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences Curtis Deutsch, used a specialized computer simulation to demonstrate for the first time that the size of low-oxygen zones created by respiring bacteria is extremely sensitive to changes in depth caused by oscillations in climate. These oxygen-depleted regions, which expand or contract depending on their depth, pose a distinct threat to marine life.
"We have shown for the first time that these low-oxygen regions are intrinsically very sensitive to small changes in climate," Deutsch said. "That is what makes the growth and shrinkage of these low-oxygen regions so dramatic."
A landless peasant activist was killed by a gunshot to his head outside his home in Brazil — the fifth murder in a month likely tied to the conflict over land and logging in the Amazon.
The Catholic Land Pastoral monitors the threats made by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protest over illegal extraction of wood and the violation of land rights in the environmentally sensitive region. More than 1,150 rural activists have been killed in conflicts over land and logging in the last two decades, and group has a list of 125 activists who know their lives are in danger.
High-tech seeds and innovations in chemicals and farming will not be enough to solve looming food shortages for the world, according to a report issued by a committee formed by food and chemicals conglomerate DuPont.
The rate of release of carbon into the atmosphere today is nearly 10 times as fast as during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), 55.9 million years ago, the best analog we have for current global warming, according to an international team of geologists. Rate matters and this current rapid change may not allow sufficient time for the biological environment to adjust.
Freshwater fish are the most endangered group of animals on the planet, with more than a third threatened with extinction, according to a report being compiled by British scientists.
Among those at the greatest risk of dying out are several species from UK rivers and lakes including the European eel, Shetland charr and many little known fish that have become isolated in remote waterways in Wales and Scotland.
Others critically endangered include types of sturgeon, which provide some of the world's most expensive caviar, and giant river dwellers such as the Mekong giant catfish and freshwater stingray, which can grow as long as 15 feet.
The scientists have blamed human activities such as overfishing, pollution and construction for pushing so many species to the brink of extinction.
A month ago, Abdullah Mohamed was just another pastoralist battling soaring temperatures and drought in the arid Mandera district in northeastern Kenya - identified by the UN, with other parts of the Horn of Africa, as just one step away from famine on a five-point scale. It has not rained in his village for more than a year.
Over 10 days, Mohamed watched 40 of his cattle collapse and die - one by one - as they waited their turn at a water-point along the border between southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya, a few kilometres from his village.
Polar bear cubs forced to swim long distances with their mothers as their icy Arctic habitat melts appear to have a higher mortality rate than cubs that didn't have to swim as far, a new study reports.
"Climate change is pulling the sea ice out from under polar bears' feet, forcing some to swim longer distances to find food and habitat," said Geoff York of World Wildlife Fund, a co-author of the study.
180 hectares (450 acres) of rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon were defoliated using Agent Orange, reports IBAMA, Brazil's environmental law enforcement agency.
The affected area, which is south of the city of Canutama and near the Mapinguari Jacareúba / Katawixi indigenous reservation in Rondônia, was first detected by Brazil's deforestation monitoring system. A subsequent helicopter overflight last month by IBAMA revealed thousands of trees largely stripped of their vegetation. Authorities later found nearly four tons of chemicals — 2,4 - D AMINE 72, U46BR, Garlon 480, and mineral oil — along trans-Amazon highway 174. The herbicides would have been enough to defoliate roughly 3,000 ha (7,500 acres) of forest, which would then be cleared for cattle ranching or agriculture.
The Japanese government is about to set 100 millisieverts as lifetime, cumulative acceptable radiation exposure standard, counting both internal and external radiation exposure, and this is on top of the average 1.5 millisievert/year natural radiation exposure.
Up till now, the acceptable radiation exposure has been 1 millisievert per year, in addition to the natural radiation exposure in Japan which is about 1.5 millisievert per year. There has been no standard for lifetime cumulative radiation exposure.
Derek Hatfield has always known about the loneliness of the long-distance sailor, but he's never felt as alone as he does these days when racing over the vast, empty expanses of our dying oceans.
"You don't see the fish, you don't see the turtles, you don't see the birds," Hatfield said in an interview from Nova Scotia, where he now lives.
"Along the coast you will see the odd humpback whale but it is getting more and more rare. Last year I did a transatlantic race and I didn't see one whale in the whole 15 days of racing across the North Atlantic. Not one whale! … The oceans are dying and they're dying very quickly."
He especially misses the company of dolphins.
Hawa Muya cradles her baby boy while her daughter shelters from the sand and flies against her mum’s black robe.
“My daughter was the first in the group to die. She was badly malnourished and she just slumped down on the ground. Some men took her into the shade but she never recovered.”
The levels of malnutrition among children fleeing Somalia's drought could lead to a "human tragedy of unimaginable proportions", the UN refugee head Antonio Guterres has said.
Over the past 40 years, a class of chemicals with the tongue-twisting name of halogenated flame retardants has permeated the lives of people throughout the industrialized world. These synthetic chemicals — used in electronics, upholstery, carpets, textiles, insulation, vehicle and airplane parts, children’s clothes and strollers, and many other products — have proven very effective at making petroleum-based materials resist fire.
Yet many of these compounds have also turned out to be environmentally mobile and persistent — turning up in food and household dust — and are now so ubiquitous that levels of the chemicals in the blood of North Americans appear to have been doubling every two to five years for the past several decades.
Canada’s Arctic ice shelves, formations that date back thousands of years, have been almost halved in size over the last six years, Canadian researchers said on Tuesday.
“It’s fascinating to bear witness to this as a scientist but it also saddens me as a general citizen of the planet to see this happen,” said Derek Mueller, a professor at the university’s school of geography and environmental studies. “We’ve seen this on timescale of six years yet these ice shelves are thought to have been in place for thousands of years.”
Farmer Mark Nelson bends down and yanks a four-foot-tall weed from his northeast Kansas soybean field. The "waterhemp" towers above his beans, sucking up the soil moisture and nutrients his beans need to grow well and reducing the ultimate yield. As he crumples the flowering end of the weed in his hand, Nelson grimaces.
"When we harvest this field, these waterhemp seeds will spread all over kingdom come," he said.
Nelson's struggle to control crop-choking weeds is being repeated all over America's farmland. An estimated 11 million acres are infested with "super weeds," some of which grow several inches in a day and defy even multiple dousings of the world's top-selling herbicide, Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate.
Warming ocean waters are causing the largest movement of marine species seen on Earth in more than two million years, according to scientists.
Professor Chris Reid, from the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said: “It seems for the first time in probably thousands of years a huge area of sea water opened up between Alaska and the west of Greenland, allowing a huge transfer of water and species between the two oceans.
“The implications are huge. The last time there was an incursion of species from the Pacific into the Atlantic was around two to three million years ago.
"Large numbers of species were introduced from the Pacific and made large numbers of local Atlantic species extinct.”
The main river coursing through Thailand's capital swelled to record highs Friday, briefly flooding riverside buildings and an ornate royal complex at high tide amid fears that flood defenses could break and swamp the heart of the city.
The floods, the heaviest in Thailand in more than half a century, have drenched a third of the country's provinces, killed close to 400 people and displaced more than 110,000 others. The water has crept from the central plains south toward the Gulf of Thailand, but Bangkok is in the way. The capital is literally surrounded by behemoth pools of water flowing around and through the city via a complex network of canals and rivers.
India Monday marked the arrival of girl named Nargis as the world's symbolic 7 billionth citizen, the Plan India child rights group said. [Des: Not this Nargis]
The United Nations had estimated that Oct. 31 would mark the day when the world population reached 7 billion.
Nargis was born as the first child to Ajay and Vinita Yadav in Mall village near Lucknow, capital of the northern Uttar Pradesh State, the Times of India reported.
The state is the most populous state in India, which has the world's second highest population after China.
Rising sea levels in the coming centuries is perhaps one of the most catastrophic consequences of rising temperatures. Massive economic costs, social consequences and forced migrations could result from global warming. But how frightening of times are we facing? Researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute are part of a team that has calculated the long-term outlook for rising sea levels in relation to the emission of greenhouse gases and pollution of the atmosphere using climate models. The results have been published in the scientific journal Global and Planetary Change.
Even in the most optimistic scenario, which requires extremely dramatic climate change goals, major technological advances, and strong international cooperation to stop emitting greenhouse gases and polluting the atmosphere, the sea would continue to rise. By the year 2100 it will have risen by 60 cm and by the year 2500 the rise in sea level will be 1.8 meters.
Muhammad Hanif rarely let his youngest son Abid out of his sight.
Abid died from diarrhea and gastroenteritis contracted from contaminated water. His parents had nothing else to give him.
"We were drinking contaminated water and eating food washed in that water," Muhammad told me.
"After that he started vomiting. We took him to the doctor, but he didn't improve."
The stagnant flood water still surrounds him in Tharparkhar district, in southern Sindh.
"Pathetic" was the verdict of one aid worker. The reaction from donors had been an "ominous silence", according to the International Committee of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Veteran aid worker David Wright, Pakistan Country Director with Save the Children, said it was the worst he had ever seen.
"I've been in this game now for 15 years," he said, "and I've never seen a response that has taken so long to get off the starting blocks. These people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. It's bigger than the tsunami."
But the response is not.
A dolphin carcass, bloated and violet in the morning sun, was found on Fort Morgan early Saturday, bringing the number lost since the BP oil spill to more than 400.
Three other dolphins have washed up in Alabama in the past week, including a pregnant female on Dauphin Island and a mother and calf pair on Hollingers Island in Mobile Bay.
"We should be seeing one (death) a month at this time of year," said Ruth Carmichael, a Dauphin Island Sea Lab scientist tasked with responding to reports of dead dolphins. "We’re getting one or more a week. It’s just never slowed down."
The 2010 drought that affected much of the Amazon rainforest triggered the release of nearly 500 million tons of carbon (1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere, or more than the total emissions from deforestation in the region over the period, estimates a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
The researchers found emissions from the drought — the worst ever recorded in the Amazon — to be "roughly equivalent to the combined effects of anthropogenic deforestation and forest fires in undisturbed Amazonian forests."
The United Nations will warn this week that the world's population could more than double to 15 billion by the end of this century, putting a catastrophic strain on the planet's resources unless urgent action is taken to curb growth rates, the Observer can reveal.
That figure is likely to shock many experts as it is far higher than many current estimates. A previous UN estimate had expected the world to have more than 10 billion people by 2100; currently, there are nearly 7 billion.
The new figure is contained in a landmark study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that will be released this week. The report –The State of World Population 2011 – is being compiled to mark the expected moment this month when somewhere on Earth a person will be born who will take the current world population over the 7 billion mark, and will be released simultaneously in cities across the globe.
Some experts reacted with shock to the figure. Roger Martin, chairman of Population Matters, which campaigns on population control, said that the Earth was entering a dangerous new phase. "Our planet is approaching a perfect storm of population growth, climate change and peak oil," he said. "The planet is not actually sustaining 7 billion people."
As the Italian government struggled to borrow and Spain considered seeking an international bail-out, British ministers privately warned that the break-up of the euro, once almost unthinkable, is now increasingly plausible.
Diplomats are preparing to help Britons abroad through a banking collapse and even riots arising from the debt crisis.
The Treasury confirmed earlier this month that contingency planning for a collapse is now under way.
A senior minister has now revealed the extent of the Government’s concern, saying that Britain is now planning on the basis that a euro collapse is now just a matter of time.
UN scientists are warning that a virus attacking the cassava plant is nearing an epidemic in parts of Africa.
Cassava is one of the world's most important crops providing up to a third of the calorie intake for many people.
The food and agriculture organisation of the UN says the situation is urgent and are calling for an increase in funding for surveillance.
The massive drought that has dried out Texas over the past year has killed as many as half a billion trees, according to new estimates from the Texas Forest Service.
"In 2011, Texas experienced an exceptional drought, prolonged high winds, and record-setting temperatures," Forest Service Sustainable Forestry chief Burl Carraway told Reuters on Tuesday. "Together, those conditions took a severe toll on trees across the state."
He said that between 100 million and 500 million trees were lost. That figure does not include trees killed in wildfires that have scorched an estimated 4 million acres in Texas since the beginning of 2011. A massive wildfire in Bastrop, east of Austin in September that destroyed 1,600 homes, is blamed for killing 1.5 million trees.
A monstrous bloom of toxic algae looming across the Texas coast has shut down oyster season. Fueled by Texas' ongoing drought, the algae — known as Karenia brevis — thrives in warm, salty water and has spread through the bays and islands along Texas' 350-mile coast, says Meridith Byrd, a marine biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The "red tide" algae usually live deep offshore and are kept away from inland waters by freshwater river runoff and rainstorms. With lack of freshwater because of the drought, the red tide has crept dangerously close to shore.
Trees are dying in the Sahel, a region in Africa south of the Sahara Desert, and human-caused climate change is to blame, according to a new study led by a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Rainfall in the Sahel has dropped 20-30 percent in the 20th century, the world’s most severe long-term drought since measurements from rainfall gauges began in the mid-1800s,” said study lead author Patrick Gonzalez, who conducted the study while he was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Forestry. “Previous research already established climate change as the primary cause of the drought, which has overwhelmed the resilience of the trees.”
They found that one in six trees died between 1954 and 2002. In addition, one in five tree species disappeared locally, and indigenous fruit and timber trees that require more moisture took the biggest hit. Hotter, drier conditions dominated population and soil factors in explaining tree mortality, the authors found. Their results indicate that climate change is shifting vegetation zones south toward moister areas.
“In the western U.S., climate change is leading to tree mortality by increasing the vulnerability of trees to bark beetles,” said Gonzalez, who is now the climate change scientist for the National Park Service. “In the Sahel, drying out of the soil directly kills trees. Tree dieback is occurring at the biome level. It’s not just one species that is dying; whole groups of species are dying out.”
Experts have long known that northern lands were a storehouse of frozen carbon, locked up in the form of leaves, roots and other organic matter trapped in icy soil — a mix that, when thawed, can produce methane and carbon dioxide, gases that trap heat and warm the planet. But they have been stunned in recent years to realize just how much organic debris is there.
A recent estimate suggests that the perennially frozen ground known as permafrost, which underlies nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere.
Temperatures are warming across much of that region, primarily, scientists believe, because of the rapid human release of greenhouse gases. Permafrost is warming, too. Some has already thawed, and other signs are emerging that the frozen carbon may be becoming unstable.
“Even if it’s 5 or 10 percent of today’s emissions, it’s exceptionally worrying, and 30 percent is humongous,” said Josep G. Canadell, a scientist in Australia who runs a global program to monitor greenhouse gases. “It will be a chronic source of emissions that will last hundreds of years.”
Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane - a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide - have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.
The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.
In an exclusive interview with the Independent, Dr Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he had never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.
"Earlier, we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1000m in diameter. It's amazing," Semiletov said. "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area, we found more than 100 but, over a wider area, there should be thousands."
The United States had a dozen weather disasters that each caused at least $1 billion in damages in 2011, the greatest frequency of severe weather that caused costly losses in more than 30 years of federal government tracking.
The disasters in 2011 caused more than 600 deaths, the agency said. The Groundhog Day blizzard, Hurricane Irene, many tornadoes and drought-fueled wildfires in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona crossed the $1-billion threshold.
It’s true that negotiators from more than 190 countries did manage to reach agreement at Durban, one that — if looked at optimistically — moves the ball forward on international climate action. But for all the hours of negotiation, for all the anger and frustration, little was definitively accomplished at Durban — certainly not enough to make a dent in the rate of global warming.