Defusing the Arctic Carbon Bomb
A story is unfolding in the Arctic region. A team of scientists is assembling. The environment is fast changing and WHRC is poised to respond.
The Arctic permafrost is thawing, ice is melting, billions of tons of carbon stored for millennia is being released, and resources and activity in the high north are about to change dramatically. Move aside Lewis and Clark, and the opening of the West, the Arctic is the world’s great new frontier tale.
Photo credit Chris Linder.
Most estimates forecast an ice-free Arctic summer sometime within the decade, opening up a shipping route that rivals the Panama and Suez canals in historic significance – only one of a number of visible consequences of climate change. The indigenous way of life of Arctic communities is threatened, wildlife will suffer, tundra fires are increasing in severity, receding coastlines pose a challenge and thawing permafrost holds potential to exacerbate global warming at an unprecedented rate. The Arctic is therefore at the epicenter of climate change, and further scientific research is needed to inform our response to the thawing, melting and opening now taking place in the high north.
The questions are challenging, but they need to be viewed as a path toward innovative solutions. Our purpose is to bring home to America how science supported by world-class research and communication can empower people to create the necessary policies to stabilize our climate. Able to nimbly assemble integrative teams of natural and social scientists, and communication experts, Woods Hole Research Center, inspired by the vision of a verdant Earth can play a pivotal role, as we have in the past, to define and communicate with clarity the breadth, depth, and urgency of defusing the arctic carbon bomb and stabilizing the climate.
Read on to dig deeper, and to understand how you can help WHRC answer the questions and meet the challenge.
The Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC), through our research and policy efforts, played an important role in defining and describing the state of climate science, and facilitating support among developing countries for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty in 1992. But more needs to be done …
What is now needed is a renewed and broad societal commitment to restoration of the relative climatic stability that existed throughout the history of human civilization and that made agriculture possible. Our focus here is on the Arctic, because of its huge potential impact on the global climate system.
If the vast stores of carbon in the Arctic are released to the atmosphere in response to fossil fuel-induced warming, the rate of warming will accelerate and the climate system could move outside of the envelope upon which our civilization’s existence is based.
We still have opportunity to deflect the global climate crisis, but effective action will require a new emphasis on focused research in the Arctic, relentless analysis of what is happening and of what must be done to reverse the process. The Arctic is a carbon bomb with a lit fuse. Responsibility for action falls heavily on the scientific community, which must define the problems and offer objective facts of how to resolve them, and the costs of failure.
But we can’t do it without your help …