Tipups

Up here on the southern shore of Lake Superior, we do a lot of ice fishing. It’s a hell of a lot of fun — not the fishing, per se, but all the stuff that goes with the fishing. By fun, I do not mean exciting; ice fishing is just like other kinds of fishing; long periods of calm contemplation of the human condition and ones own place in’t.

A person knows when they’ve got a fish on the line when the tipup is triggered — on my rig, a little orange stick that springs up and literally quivers with excitement.

When I read the story in the Chicago Tribune about Russian scientist Sergei Zimov study of methane gas release from Siberia’s melting permafrost, a tipup spronged up in my head.

In Siberia, the permafrost entombs billions of tons of organic matter from the Ice Age, when northern Russia’s steppe teemed with mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, musk oxen and other wildlife. Dormant for millennia, the permafrost is being thawed by global warming, triggering the microbial consumption that results in the release of greenhouse gases.

The process feeds on itself. As the climate warms, permafrost on the banks of Siberian lakes collapses into the water, supplying bacteria with more organic material to consume and further raising the level of methane released into the air.

The melting of permafrost cannot be stopped, Zimov said, but it could be slowed.

(Chicago Tribune – entire article)

A couple of weeks ago, I heard Konrad Steffan on a National Geographic program calmly say that the Greenland ice sheets are experiencing a positive feedback of melting. As an aside, I get a huge kick out of how calmly scientists talk, how their tone, word usage and body language say “Move along, nothing to see”; a person’s really gotta listen to get their point.

A few weeks before that, I read an article about how shocked scientists are at the rate of polar ice melt. Just five years ago, most scientist predicted that we may have an ice-free arctic summer sea by 2070. Mark Serreze, of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) just predicted that this summer, the summer of 2008, may experience an ice free arctic polar ocean — a sight last seen by the dinosaurs.

I’m reading Jared Diamond’s new book, Collapse. What I like about it so far is that it is so beautifully hopeful. There are ways that societies throughout our time on this old earth have dealt with these issues. Some societies, like the Easter Islanders, have failed completely. But others have managed not to fail.

We’ve hooked one hell of a fish. It’s easy to see that the global climate is going to change in increasingly dramatic ways. I think that, personally, I need to turn my attention to something other than staring horrified at the Loch Ness Monster that’s on the end of our line. It’s time that I started talking about what we might do with the bastard.

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