News / Science & Technology

Polar Scientist Charts Melting Caused by Climate Change

Expects accelerated thawing to continue unless greenhouse-gas emissions are reduced

Sparse snow patches in Taylor Valley Antarctica may be an important source of moisture for soil ecosystems in this extreme environment.
Sparse snow patches in Taylor Valley Antarctica may be an important source of moisture for soil ecosystems in this extreme environment.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Michael Gooseff follows water to the end of the earth. The Pennsylvania State University hydrologist works in remote regions of the Arctic and Antarctic, where ice and frozen ground are thawing. He expects polar warming and melting to continue at an accelerating pace if no significant reductions are made in climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions.

At the annual convention of the Ecological Society of America in Austin, Texas this week he posed this question: “How are those polar systems responding to climate change?”  

The answer is based on his on-going research into how water crosses landscapes and what happens to it above and below ground.

“In the northern regions, of course, we have sea ice, but a smaller surface area than in the Antarctic where we have very large ice sheets. And that actually plays into the differences in climate change responses that we’re seeing at both of those places.”

According to Gooseff, the two regions also differ widely geologically and ecologically. He says the Antarctic McMurdo Dry Valleys station where he’s based “appears like a polar desert system with open exposed soils, with no vascular plants at the surface and with glaciers coming down from the mountains, whereas in northern Alaska, we have a lot of plants. The tundra is actually dense with vegetation and very green.”

Thawing permafrost creates a formation called a thermokarst, which sends an overload of sediment and nutrients into streams in the Western Brooks Range of Alaska.
Thawing permafrost creates a formation called a thermokarst, which sends an overload of sediment and nutrients into streams in the Western Brooks Range of Alaska.

Gooseff is documenting change over time, by observing patterns in polar rivers, streams and lakes. He recalls a 2003 visit to Alaska’s North Slope, when his team charted the course of an unusual muddy stream.

“We follow this up and finally we found a big gash in the hill slope essentially, and all of this mud pouring out from underneath it.”

Here’s what had happened: A massive ice wedge under the surface had melted, thawing the permafrost and causing the soil above it to collapse. That created a deep gully in the hillside.

A study of historic aerial photos of the area revealed that this dramatic change, as well as similar warming-induced changes to 25 other landscape features, had occurred over just two decades.

Gooseff explains that as water moves through these altered formations, it picks up sediment and nutrients normally locked up in the permafrost. As that flows into rivers, it could affect fisheries and coastal oceans.

The Toolik River thermokarst gully that Michael Gooseff and colleagues discovered just after its formation in 2003.
The Toolik River thermokarst gully that Michael Gooseff and colleagues discovered just after its formation in 2003.

Gooseff says the melting permafrost sets up another dangerous climate scenario.  “As we warm, we release more carbon, that carbon goes into the atmosphere, contributes to more warming, contributes to more permafrost degradation and the cycle sort of continues. In fact, permafrost itself is expected to hold about twice as much carbon as we currently have in the atmosphere.”

At the opposite end of the earth, near the McMurdo Dry Valleys station, Gooseff studies snow patches. Not much snow falls in Antarctica, but what little there is collects in cool shady spots, behind rocks and hills. These patches insulate the soil and may provide small amounts of moisture for microbes below.  

Gooseff says the melt from this frozen precipitation, as well as from older snowpack and glacier ice, is happening faster and is more widespread than a decade ago. The remote sensing devices his research team has deployed are helping to track how that water moves across the land.

“We expect that there are going to be patterns in both time and space that will be somewhat predictable.”

Gooseff hopes his research of climate change at the poles underscores the regions’ interconnectedness with a global climate system that affects everyone on the planet.

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid