Ice Melt photo from Shutterstock

Arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate, and a new report by a group of economists and polar scientists published in Nature asserts that the thaw is an economic time-bomb that could cost the world trillions of dollars due to methane released by thinning permafrost. More than 50 gigatons of methane lie trapped beneath the East Siberian Sea, and the release of this potent greenhouse gas due to a warming climate could have catastrophic consequences for the world economy and the planet as a whole.

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The Arctic ice has been melting at a rapid rate and is now only at 40% of what it was in the 1970s. Instead of bringing economic opportunity, the report warns that it could bring economic catastrophe in the form of a single giant “pulse” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea, that could bring with it “a $70 trillion global price tag”. Even if a giant pulse doesn’t happen, the slow emission of a much smaller proportion of vast quantities of methane locked up in the Arctic permafrost and the offshore waters could trigger catastrophic climate change and cause “steep” economic losses. A giant reservoir of the greenhouse gas, in the form of gas hydrates on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), could be emitted, either slowly over 50 years or catastrophically fast over a shorter time frame, say the researchers.

Thus far, governments and industry have thought that possible oil spills were the only downside to the Arctic thaw. But the report says that the negative impacts are far bigger, more widespread and dangerous than localized oil spills, since the ramifications of the melting ice aren’t isolated to the north pole. The Arctic thaw is affecting the entire world, as the region is pivotal to the way the earth works, in particular, its oceans and climate. The authors of the report calculate that 80% of the negative impacts of the Arctic thaw will be felt by the developing countries of Africa, Asia and South America. The poorest economies of the world are likely to experience flooding of low-lying areas, extreme heat and droughts and storms, which are all magnified by the extra methane emissions, according to the report. Professor Gail Whiteman of the Rotterdam School of Management warns that, “neither the World Economic Forum nor the International Monetary Fund currently recognize the economic danger of Arctic change. [They must] pay much more attention to this invisible time-bomb. The impacts of just one [giant “pulse” of methane] approaches the $70 trillion value of the world economy in 2012.”

Via The Guardian

Photos by Credit: Collection of Dr. Pablo Clemente-Colon, Chief Scientist National Ice Center. (NOAA Photo Library: arct0253) [CC-BY-2.0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and by NASA ICE (Dirty IceUploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons