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Sudden Climate Change Could Occur Within a Generation May 30, 2008
Satellite Image
The type of cascading methane gas release that ended the last "Snowball Earth" ice age could be about to accelerate global warming.
The Earth may be on the verge of a massive, cascading release of methane similar to one that caused a global warming that ended the last “snowball” ice age, according to a team of California scientists.

Writing in the journal Nature, lead researcher Martin J. Kennedy of UC Riverside suggests the same kind of warming could be about to occur, not over thousands of years, but within a human lifetime.

Methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide (CO2), and 10,000 gigatons of frozen methane are currently stored in the world’s oceans and permafrost.

The current trend of accelerated permafrost melting as the Arctic warms faster than other areas of the planet could release vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere, triggering rapid climate change.

Kennedy worries that rising CO2 levels could drive enough warming to destabilize the Earth's stored methane reserves.

“Unzippering the methane reservoir could potentially warm the Earth tens of degrees, and the mechanism could be geologically very rapid.” Kennedy wrote.

Graphic: Neethis