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News :: Environment & Food

Warming hits 'tipping point'

It's a frozen peat bog the size of France and Germany combined, contains billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas and, for the first time since the ice age, it is melting

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Thursday August 11, 2005
The Guardian

A vast expanse of western Sibera is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today.

Researchers who have recently returned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres - the size of France and Germany combined - has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

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The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world's largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying "tipping points" - delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater hike in global temperatures.

The discovery was made by Sergei Kirpotin at Tomsk State University in western Siberia and Judith Marquand at Oxford University and is reported in New Scientist today.

The researchers found that what was until recently a barren expanse of frozen peat is turning into a broken landscape of mud and lakes, some more than a kilometre across.

Dr Kirpotin told the magazine the situation was an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming". He added that the thaw had probably begun in the past three or four years.

Climate scientists yesterday reacted with alarm to the finding, and warned that predictions of future global temperatures would have to be revised upwards.

"When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable. There are no brakes you can apply," said David Viner, a senior scientist at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

"This is a big deal because you can't put the permafrost back once it's gone. The causal effect is human activity and it will ramp up temperatures even more than our emissions are doing."

In its last major report in 2001, the intergovernmental panel on climate change predicted a rise in global temperatures of 1.4C to 5.8C between 1990 and 2100, but the estimate only takes account of global warming driven by known greenhouse gas emissions.

"These positive feedbacks with landmasses weren't known about then. They had no idea how much they would add to global warming," said Dr Viner.

Western Siberia is heating up faster than anywhere else in the world, having experienced a rise of some 3C in the past 40 years. Scientists are particularly concerned about the permafrost, because as it thaws, it reveals bare ground which warms up more quickly than ice and snow, and so accelerates the rate at which the permafrost thaws.

Siberia's peat bogs have been producing methane since they formed at the end of the last ice age, but most of the gas had been trapped in the permafrost. According to Larry Smith, a hydrologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, the west Siberian peat bog could hold some 70 billion tonnes of methane, a quarter of all of the methane stored in the ground around the world.

The permafrost is likely to take many decades at least to thaw, so the methane locked within it will not be released into the atmosphere in one burst, said Stephen Sitch, a climate scientist at the Met Office's Hadley Centre in Exeter.

But calculations by Dr Sitch and his colleagues show that even if methane seeped from the permafrost over the next 100 years, it would add around 700 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year, roughly the same amount that is released annually from the world's wetlands and agriculture. It would effectively double atmospheric levels of the gas, leading to a 10% to 25% increase in global warming, he said.

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said the finding was a stark message to politicians to take concerted action on climate change. "We knew at some point we'd get these feedbacks happening that exacerbate global warming, but this could lead to a massive injection of greenhouse gases.

"If we don't take action very soon, we could unleash runaway global warming that will be beyond our control and it will lead to social, economic and environmental devastation worldwide," he said. "There's still time to take action, but not much.

"The assumption has been that we wouldn't see these kinds of changes until the world is a little warmer, but this suggests we're running out of time."

In May this year, another group of researchers reported signs that global warming was damaging the permafrost. Katey Walter of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told a meeting of the Arctic Research Consortium of the US that her team had found methane hotspots in eastern Siberia. At the hotspots, methane was bubbling to the surface of the permafrost so quickly that it was preventing the surface from freezing over.

Last month, some of the world's worst air polluters, including the US and Australia, announced a partnership to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the use of new technologies.

The deal came after Tony Blair struggled at the G8 summit to get the US president, George Bush, to commit to any concerted action on climate change and has been heavily criticised for setting no targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

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News :: Civil & Human Rights : Gender & Sexuality : Globalization & Capitalism : Labor & Economics : Womyn

A woman's place is ... on the board

Get more women on the board or we will shut you down. This is the Norwegian government's stark warning to companies in an attempt to break the glass ceiling holding back female executives.

Like their British counterparts, Norwegian women have had a tough time getting seats at the boardroom table. In Britain, figures from a Guardian survey on executive pay last week showed that less than 10% of directors are female.

In Norway the figure stands at over 15% in private sector firms but in a nation where over a third of MPs and eight out of 19 cabinet ministers are female, it is still a low number.

But that could all be about to change. Last year, the Norwegian parliament passed a bill forcing private firms to have at least 40% women on their boards. Companies had until July to boost participation of their own accord. If the numbers are insufficient, which the state will decide by August 15, sanctions will be applied and they won't just be a slap on the wrist.

"If they don't follow the rules, at the end of the day, they will be dissolved," said Ansgar Gabrielsen, the 50-year-old conservative politician who initiated the law when he was trade and industry secretary.

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News :: Media Organizations in Monterey Bay Area

Networking: Trouble for new Microsoft OS?

Hackers crack code of the pirates at Microsoft - right out of the box.

CHICAGO, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Microsoft Corp. is releasing a beta version of Windows Vista, its latest operating system -- said to be impervious to most network hackers -- and the accompanying server software is anticipated later this year, experts told UPI's Networking.

According to Microsoft, one of Vista's primary features is its network access protection. Often, worms and viruses attack an internal corporate network via mobile PCs -- and handhelds -- that lack the latest security updates or virus signatures. With Vista, mobile computing users will be prevented from linking to a corporate network until they have installed all of the latest security software and met other "security criteria," the company said in a statement. By Gene Koprowski

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:: Government & Elections : Independent News : Peace & War : Police State

Joe Wilson Interviewed on the CIA/Rove Scandal

This morning's interview with Joe Wilson on Democracy Now! shed some new light on the fallout from the faked Niger Uranium documents. How did the "outing" of CIA agent Valerie Plame by Karl Rove result in the imprisonment of journalist Judith Miller? What did she really know? Last year's statement from Wilson and the original documents are still available on dogspot#203.

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Commentary :: Globalization & Capitalism

Market Fundamentalists Lose in Iran (For Now)

Ahmadinejad's landslide win was a vote against the global neliberal elite with whom "reformists" are allied.

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News :: Media Criticism

The Web: Silencing jihadi Web sites

Government thugs shutting down peace and freedom loving websites
The online communications channel between al-Qaida's shadowy leaders and its terrorist operatives has been severely disrupted in recent weeks -- since the July 7, 2005, jihadi attacks on London -- apparently by British intelligence.
Though the Internet is a recent and universal resource, legal and military experts told UPI's The Web there is ample precedent for a government, in time of war, to attempt to deny the enemy the ability to communicate. By Gene Koprowski

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News :: Media Criticism

Networking: 'Smart highways' emerging

Shallow slave masters seek ways to make underpaid employees work even more when they drive


CHICAGO, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Commuters cruise down Interstate 95 from New York City to Washington, D.C., bumper to bumper, at a speed of 120 miles per hour -- about a two-hour trip at that speed. Do they worry about collisions? Not at all. They can even check the Dow Jones industrial average or browse new books on Amazon.com while they motor. By Gene Koprowski

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News :: Environment & Food : Peace & War

Livermore Lab Advised to Remove Plutonium

Livermore residents who fear nuclear accidents or terrorist attacks at the weapons lab down the street will be able to breathe a sigh of relief if the recommendations of a federal task force are carried out.

The report, still in draft form and dated July 13, advises protecting civilian populations by moving plutonium out of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory -- where 1,500 pounds of the fissionable material are now stored -- and shipping it to a centralized lab elsewhere, probably in the American desert.

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