The accelerated melting of the Siberian permafrost could drastically speed up the effects of global warming according to a Russian climate change expert.
Sergei Zimov, chief scientist at the Russian Academy of Science's North Eastern Scientific station, claims that layers of animal waste and other organic matter, including mammoth droppings, that have until now remained frozen in permafrost are fast becoming exposed to the elements owing to thawing brought about by rising temperatures.
According to the scientist, once uncovered, this prehistoric gunk will unleash thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide and, more dangerously, methane gas into the atmosphere.
Zimov, whose remote research station is found three plane rides and eight times-zones away from Moscow, says areas that were empty tundra until just 10 years ago are now dotted with "thermokarst" lakes that bubble with methane - a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
"This will lead to a type of global warming which will be impossible to stop," says the scientist who has studied climate change in Russia's Arctic for almost 30 years. "The deposits of organic matter in these soils are so gigantic they dwarf global oil reserves... If you don't stop emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere the Kyoto Protocol will seem like childish prattle."
Current figures presented by the US government say that mankind emits around 7 billion tonnes of carbon a year. According to Zimov, the permafrost areas hold around 500 billion tonnes of carbon. Uh oh!
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published: 11:30 - Tuesday 18th September 2007