Sunday, October 15, 2006

The 'Siberian Time bomb'.

Update 26/10: Most traffic to this site right now is looking for further info on 'The Siberian Timebomb' or, the warming of the Siberian permafrost. I've put in a request to the editors of the BBC to repeat their programme on this topic and are awaiting their response. Until then further information can be found at .

Update 27/10: 'The Official Tree' in Geneva, as it's known, traditionally heralds in spring when the chestnut begins to bloom. The locals there could be forgiven for thinking that winter never arrived and that they've found themselves leapfrogging into spring. Yesterday a very confused Official Tree burst into bloom thanks to a very warm Swiss autumn.

There's a lot of scary stuff around at the moment about global warming and its consequences; consequences like here in London, where this year we've had our warmest July, September and probably October on record. My olive tree likes it but, the birds and bees don't. Global warming is misleading. Why? Watch the BBC's 'The Siberian Timebomb' by David Shukman. It's an amazing piece of investigative journalism which has the BBC crew travel up to the Arctic circle in Siberia to look at the rapid melting of the permafrost. They team up with Russian and US scientists who have been studying this area for at least 20 years.

The scariest moment was when they took their readings for CO2 gases being released from the permafrost. As they stuck their instrument into the soil we saw the initial reading of 380ppm quickly rise to nearly 600ppm!!

That's global inferno not warming. Weather turmoil and their consequences are going to hit overdrive. We've already seen this with New Orleans, the Arctic ice retreat, the hole over Antarctica, to name but a few major trends.

And what did these scientists show us in their nearby lakes....methane, bubbling up like there was no tomorrow (no pun please!). Yes the global inferno gas of them all. So, will technological break throughs save the day. No they won't. The best we can do is try to forewarn ourselves, adjust as best we can and hope that it ain't our city, our families that bear the brunt of what's coming. You think I'm joking?............. the scientists certainly weren't.


At 12:25 pm, Blogger Keith Scott said...

When is the programme on?

At 1:36 pm, Blogger Matt Burge said...

Its been and gone. Was on News24 as a feature and only caught it by chance. Maybe it's available on podcast! (or such like).

It's the most important piece of journalism I've seen for years and yet with this 'speed journalism' we have these days you blink and you miss it! I'm thinking about contacting the BBC to ask them to play on terrestrial so a wider audience sees it.

We've had some google hits on the matter coming to our blog.

At 4:35 pm, Blogger Arthur_Vandelay said...

Thanks, guys. Scary stuff indeed.

At 7:24 pm, Blogger Matt Burge said...

Lets hope not too scary!

The UK is supposedly two months into Autumn but, we're still waiting and Winter is meant to be just around the corner. Very strange indeed. Guess it just might be the Siberian Effect since the icey blasts are meant to come from there and at the moment well, that area is warming up! Confused? The birds and the bees sure as hell are.

At 12:47 pm, Blogger Keith Scott said...

See this article published in the Guardian on the subject last year. Western siberia has heated up 3 degree is the past 40 years - more than anywhere else on earth. It can lead to a doubling of the amount of methane entering in the atmosphere each year and lead to a 10% to 25% increase in global warming.

At 4:14 pm, Blogger Matt Burge said...

Good summary from the Guardian Keith. I believe Pete & Stephan are looking for more on this as well.

The implications are as overwhelming and vast as Siberia itself. Looks to me like human civilisations are sleep walking into disaster. Although I'm sure Stephan would disagree!

At 12:08 am, Blogger Pete Smith said...

It's really frustrating trying to discuss a TV programme that no-one seems to have seen, but here goes. My first thought is that since this is a 30 minute special report hidden away on the BBC's digital rolling news channel, it may well not contain any earth shattering news. David Shukman was in Siberia with a cameraman in September 2006, you can read some of his experiences in "Diary: Siberia and climate change" at I suspect that this programme is the result of that visit.

The potential dangers of the thawing permafrost have been known for some time, Matt's original link at dates from 2005. A more recent Siberian methane study in Nature magazine is interesting because it describes a new method for measuring methane emissions, indicating emission levels up to 5 times higher than previously thought. In "Methane bubbles climate trouble" (7th September 2006) at, the BBC refer to a comparison with previous estimates that were very much 'finger in the air'. While the data-gathering techniques are more accurate in measuring bubbling from lake surfaces, the conclusions are still an approximation based on
"random and selective placement of bubble traps under water or ice to make continuous measurements of
‘background’ (measured with randomly placed traps),
‘point-source’ (moderately high bubble flux from discrete points in lake sediments) and
‘hotspot’ (open holes in ice due to extremely high bubble flux
from discrete points in lake sediments) fluxes from April 2003 through May 2004 on two intensively studied lakes in North Siberia." (Nature 443 Sep 7 2006)

A moderately better informed finger in the air perhaps. I won't be getting too excited until I've seen the programme. If the BBC don't screen it again, they obviously aren't that excited either.

At 7:24 am, Blogger Matt Burge said...

Glad there's at least one person in the world who's relaxed about this. They say that the calm among us will rise up and lead in times of chaos!

> The potential dangers of the thawing permafrost have been known for some time...

Yes known but, only discovered by a relatively small group of scientists that the 'tipping point' has been reached just 3 or 4 years ago, which is like yesterday in the scheme of things. A larger number of the general public are only just beginning to hear of this thanks to the BBC's world reach; a far greater reach, that Nature or the New Scientist can only dream of. Our humble blog has taken hits on this topic from a wider range of countries than ever before. I wouldn't rely too much on the BBC to realise whether or not David's programme is important or not. 'Caribbean Drug Patrol' for example is aimed at the day to day ratings war after all.

Is the warming of the permafrost in Siberia a disaster. According to the scientists I've seen quoted, yes it is. I think I'll trust their judgement and intuitively it makes sense. I certainly wouldn't want to get bogged down discussing measurement techniques.

At 11:14 am, Blogger Pete Smith said...

I'm very far from relaxed. What worries me most is that nobody really knows anything concrete about the amount of methane poised to be released as the climate warms. Nor is there anything like a complete understanding of what happens to the methane once it escapes. This is why it's so important to improve our measurement techniques.
There's a very good source of info about all things methane at

At 10:34 am, Blogger Philip Booth said...

Indeed much unknown - and clearly more work is needed - but we also do know alot and know alot about what needs to be done - as even Stern makes clear, the problem is urgent - yet we see little action. A litmus test to assess whether the government is serious about rising to the challenge will be whether it responds with some urgency. Will we now see full implementation of EU legislation on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, plus swift abandoning of those areas of government policy which are making the problem worse – like its support for roadbuilding schemes and massive expansion of the aviation industry? If not, then we are sadly witnessing yet more hot air from this government.

At 6:47 am, Blogger Matt Burge said...

Unfortunately in Europe we are seeing a mad scramble for gas suuply deals with Russia and Karzakstan. Energy policy is a shambles, so much so that they are now going down the nuclear route again. There are some good points; Portugal is installing one of the world's largest solar power stations; Germany, Denmark and increasingly the UK are utilizing wind power, among others.

But really, with what's happening in Siberia proves that the horse has already bolted. Climate change is actually happening rapidly right before our eyes. We need to wake up to that and work out the implications and then try to adapt. Oh, and we'll need very astute and strong leaders!

At 4:40 am, Blogger s2s2 said...

There is a related contracted show, BBC's 'Global Dimming', which captures bits, whether it's of this 'Siberian Timebomb' footage or related. It's possible to find it on the emule networks. I watched the Siberian Timebomb show. I thought it was quite good, and alarming. Tropical forests catching on fire in 40 years.

At 4:42 am, Blogger s2s2 said...

I should clarify, saying it's possible to find the other related show, 'Global Dimming', on emule, but as yet, no 'Siberian Timebomb' :(


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