The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers;
heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt.
-the prophet Isaiah (c.760-690 B.C.)
Isaiah 24:4-6 in the New Revised Standard Version of
Loss of Carbon Sink: Forests
Warming, Forests & Bark Beetles
Loss of Reflective Capability
Water Vapor in the Atmosphere Increasing
Loss of Carbon Sink: Disappearing Plankton
Loss of Carbon Sink: Warming Tundra & Thawing Permafrost
Loss of Snowpack
As global warming worsens and temperatures rise, the forests become more stressed and susceptible to fire, pests and diseases.
 This in turn may cripple temperate forests' ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
Boreal forests, which
cover 17% of the Earth's land surface area, are found in Alaska's south-central and interior regions............ Models
consistently project large-scale transformation of Arctic landscapes, where the northern edge of the boreal forest advances
into the tundra. Even with these projections, concerns for Alaska's boreal forests from projected climate changes include:
a loss in the moisture needed for forest growth; insect-induced tree mortality; increased risk of large fires; interference
with the reproduction of white spruce, a biological and economic concern; and the changes caused by permafrost thaw e.g.,
slumping of land and wetland development from thaw water.......... It has been suggested that the past 20 years have seen
the greatest moisture stress and lowest productivity of the 20th century through much of the interior boreal forest..............
Forest fire frequency and intensity have increased markedly since 1970. The 10-year average of boreal forest burned in North
America, after several decades of around 2.5 million acres, has increased steadily since 1970 to more than 7 million acres
annually. Boreal forest fire reached extreme values in both Eurasia and North America in 1998, with over 27 million acres
burned in total, 10 million in North America. It is suggested that substantial climate-related changes for the coastal forest
could occur over several decades, including the appearance of new fungi and a significant fire risk for the first time in
the observed record.
David Schindler, professor at University of Alberta says that it took 65 million years for the boreal
forest to evolve, and that it is a monumental tragedy that we are seeing the decline of these majestic forests. “I can
only hope,” says Schindler, “that we see the light and change our ways before the boreal is gone forever.”
In its last assessment in 1996 the IPCC panel concluded that "carbon fertilization," by which elevated CO2 levels
stimulate plant growth, would cause forests to absorb 290 billion tons of carbon over the next century, even without new planting.
This is all unlikely now in a new report, citing the effect of respiration. Respiration occurs when plant matter breaks down
the sugars they make during photosynthesis, releasing CO2 back into the air. Photosynthesis, the process that creates plant
matter, absorbs CO2 from the air. Experts such as Bob Sholes of the South African government's research agency, CSIR,
argue that CO2 fertilization may have already peaked, and that respiration may be about to accelerate. CO2 fertilization is
an instantaneous process, but respiration increases in response to temperatures rising because of increasing levels of CO2
in the atmosphere. That warming has a built-in delay of about 50 years, caused largely by the thermal inertia of the oceans.
So the extra outpouring of CO2 from the world's forests would not yet be apparent. During the period of this delay, there
is an apparent carbon sink. 
Warming, Forests & Bark Beetles
Bark beetles have been permeating forests in the last 10 years at higher latitudes (i.e. Canada, Alaska, Siberia etc.) and
higher elevations (i.e Rocky Mountains). The threat of forest beetles could be one of the worst global warming impacts yet
to come. As increasing temperatures enable bark beetles to survive winters in greater numbers, their growing presence will
lead to a greater capacity to kill more trees. This threatens to be a severe positive feedback scenario: warmer temperatures
increases winter survival rates of bark beetles; more beetles leads to killing more trees, in turn bringing on more fires
from dead trees, leading to more carbon dioxide from fires and less uptake of CO2, leading to more CO2 in the atmosphere and
consequently higher temperatures. As of June 2009 there are now more than 7 million acres ( the size of Massachusetts) of
dead trees in the U.S.
While the lower moderate latitudes
have seen temperature increases of a little over 1 degree Fahrenheit, the subarctic regions have seen about a 4 degree increase.
Ed Holsten ,an entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Alaska says, "In Alaska, the distribution of plants and animals
is controlled by climate," said Holsten. "Any subtle change in temperature will affect insects. Spruce bark beetles
usually have a two-year cycle, but warmer temperatures can cause them to complete their cycle in one year. So a lot more are
being bred at one time." The high temperatures have increased the survivability of bark beetles in the boreal forests.
In Alaska the survival rate of beetle larvae of the spruce bark beetle during the winter months has increased, while also
speeding their maturing process. As a result, there are greater populations of this beetle that have destroyed about 3 million
acres of white spruce on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. Studying the problem, University of Wisconsin entomologist, Kenneth
Raffa says, "The trees have a naturally occurring insecticide in their resin, but that's ineffective against an attack
this large."  This forest is now highly vulnerable to fire, which could, of course, spread to nearby healthy forests.
Colorado's Rocky Mountains are losing to pine bark beetles as
they decimate millions of trees at altitudes where these insects had never reached before. Read more about the threat these
beetles pose and listen to a report by Aspen NPR's Kurt Stiegler.
An epidemic of tree-killing beetles is spreading rapidly through the forests in Canada's largest lumber exporting
province, with the deadly insects now found in a area nearly three-quarters the size of Sweden, officials said. The tiny pine
beetles, which have been spreading almost unchecked through British Columbia for several years because of unusually warm winters,
have seriously infested 9 million acres (3.6 million hectares) of forests and have now destroyed up 108 million cubic metres
of lodgepole pine timber. Provincial officials tracking the beetle infestation warned in a report that the amount of destroyed
trees could reach 150 million cubic metres next year unless the weather turns cold enough to kill larvae before they hatch.
This year's winter (2002-03) in the Cariboo Region where the bugs have hit the hardest is not expected to be particularly
cold. Officials said the number of trees killed in the infested area varies from area to area, but the critical infestation
is considered to cover 9 million acres in the province's Interior region, up from 8 million acres last year. "This
is clearly an epidemic of catastrophic proportion," said Larry Pedersen, British Columbia's chief forester. As on
the Kenai Peninsula (see above), this could make the British Columbia forests more vulnerable to fire. See Planet Ark story
for more detail. (Note: Sometimes referenced articles are not available)
In Canada British Columbia officials noted in an October, 2003 report, Timber Supply and the Mountain Pine
Beetle Infestation in British Columbia, that beetle infestation was fast spreading through its forests. As the upward
trend of temperatures continues, Canada may see even more severe beetle devastation in their forest stands, while continuing
to increase the degree of exposure to forest fires.
2002 a report noted that in British Columbia, tree-killing pine beetles were spreading rapidly through the forests in
this, Canada's largest lumber exporting province. Warmer winters have aided these beetles, and their numbers have escalated,
so that 9 million acres (3.6 million hectares) of forests were infested, and have now destroyed up 108 million cubic metres
of lodgepole pine timber. "This is clearly an epidemic of catastrophic proportion," said Larry Pedersen, British
Columbia's chief forester.
Warmer winters in Wyoming and
Yellowstone National Park are also finding healthier populations of bark beetles in whitebark pines, one of the main
food sources for grizzly bears. See NRDC Report With whitebark pines threatened by extinction, we could lose the remaining
1000 grizzly bears, now living mostly in Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.
Loss of Reflective Capability of Ice
Ice and snow both strongly reflect the sun's rays, keeping the earth cool. But as global warming melts glaciers, as well
as ice in Greenland, the Arctic and Antarctic, it exposes land and water. Land and water, being darker surfaces reflect less
solar heat back out into space, allowing the atmosphere to absorb more warmth. In fact, ice absorbs less than half the sunlight
that falls on it, but ocean surfaces absorb about 90%. As can be expected, more ice and snow will melt. See NASA
Animation of What Happens When Ice Melts
In 1976, the average
thickness was 10 feet. Scientists have since discovered that the average thickness of Arctic sea ice during the years from
1993 through 1997 was about six feet, a 40% decrease. Since the ice is already floating in water, there would be no effect
on sea level rise. Researchers say that the thinning is continuing at four inches per year. One of the concerns of continuing
Arctic sea ice loss, is the loss of the ability to reflect heat into space, and to dilution of the conveyor belt as mentioned
above. .....The melting ice could lead to even faster warming, said Ted Scambos of NSIDC [CIRES' National Snow and
Ice Data Center (NSIDC)][ University of Colorado based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)].
Both sea ice and glacier ice cool Earth, reflecting about 80 percent of springtime solar radiation and 40 percent to 50 percent
during summer snowmelt. This is one of the positve feedbacks, where greater loss of sea ice and albedo (the degree of reflecting
ability), brings about more warming, leading to greater loss of arctic ice. CERES NASA Web Site See NASA
Animation of What Happens When Sea Ice Melts
R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute determined
that of the warming during the 20th century, the greater warming, about .36 degrees Fahrenheit each decade, has occurred since
1975. Another study NASA scientists, released in September, 2006, finds that the world's temperature is reaching a level
that has not been seen in thousands of years. The study, led by James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies,
N.Y., along with scientists from other organizations concludes that, because of the rapid warming trend over the past 30 years,
the Earth is now reaching and passing through the warmest levels in the current interglacial period, which has lasted nearly
12,000 years. The study notes that the world's warming is greatest at high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, and it
is larger over land than over ocean areas. The enhanced warming at high latitudes is attributed to effects of the melting
ice and snow, and the loss of reflecting ability.
In a N.Y Times article (Nov. 17, 1999) it was reported
that scientists have discovered that from 1993 through 1997 average Arctic sea ice thickness was six feet. This represents
a significant reduction in Arctic sea ice from 1958 through 1976 when average thickness measured 10 feet. This means that
in less than 30 years, there has been a 40% loss of arctic sea ice. In a Washington Post article (Dec. 3, 1999)
it was noted that Arctic sea ice is shrinking at a rate of 14,000 square miles annually, an area larger than Maryland and
The Antarctic Peninsula has seen an increase in average temperatures of almost
5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years. Heavy sea ice has been the norm in the Antarctic, but in the 1990's sea ice
disintegration has begun, notes Robin Ross, a biological oceanographer with the University of California at Santa Barbara.
During the year 1998, the Antarctic displayed a record low in winter sea ice.
Svein Tveitdal, Managing Director of
GRID-Arendal which is UNEP's key polar centre said, "The loss of ice in the Arctic could lead to a sudden, acceleration,
of global warming. Ice reflects radiation or heat from the sun back into space. Absorbed radiation over snow and ice is three
times lower than over land. Reduced ice and snow cover might trigger an accelerated climate change." 
Water Vapor In the Atmosphere Increasing
Water vapor is the most prevalent greenhouse gas on the planet,
but its increasing presence is the result of evaporation caused by the warming, in turn, caused by carbon dioxide, methane
and other greenhouse gases. (See NOAA's National Climate Data Center (NCDC) FAQ page) As the Earth heats up relative humidity
is able to increase, allowing the planet's atmosphere to hold more water vapor, causing even more warming, thus a positive
feedback scenario. Because the air is warmer, the relative humidity can be higher (in essence, the air is able to 'hold'
more water when its warmer), leading to more water vapor in the atmosphere, says the NCDC. There is much scientific uncertainty
as to the degree this feedback loop causes increased warming, inasmuch as the water vapor also causes increased cloud formation,
which in turn reflects heat back out into space.
The ability of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide may be at risk. Presently oceans are absorbing about 2 billion
tons of carbon annually  . A report in Nature, August 1995, suggests that the oceans may be losing fixed nitrogen, an essential
fertilizer that allows phytoplankton to grow. Phytoplankton absorb and fix carbon that is then transferred to the deep ocean.
If in fact the oceans are losing nitrogen as they warm, they will tend to absorb less carbon, boosting the rate of carbon
dioxide buildup in the atmosphere. 
Plankton are a major
carbon sink in addition to the forests, other green plants, the permafrost, the earth's soil and atmosphere. Plankton
take in about half of all the world's CO2, using the carbon for growth, while releasing oxygen during the process of photosythesis.
During the past 20 years there has been a stark decline, more than 9%, in primary production of plankton, while in the same
period plankton of the North Atlantic has decreased by 7%. Less plankton; less carbon uptake.Watson W. Gregg, a NASA biologist
at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland says that the greatest loss of phytoplankton has occurred where
ocean temperatures have risen most significantly between the early 1980's and the late 1990's. In the North Atlantic
summertime sea surface temperatures rose about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit during that period, Gregg said, while in the North Pacific
the ocean's surface temperatures rose about 7/10ths of a degree.(San Francisco Chronicle, David Perlman, Science Editor,
October 6, 2003). See NASA Report on Ocean Plant Life Absorbing Less Carbon
In the Arctic, loss
of sea ice associated with warming could result in the diminution of phytoplankton populations. This could lead to ‘knock-on
effects’ throughout the Arctic food chain, including declines in the stocks of several key prey species of cetaceans,
such as copepods and plankton-feeding fish, including Arctic cod, a key prey species for narwhal and beluga whales. Warming
and the attendant ice melt might result in greater stratification of the water column and decreased nutrient resupply, limiting
the growth of phytoplankton populations that are a critical link in the cetacean food chain in the region. See Report by William
Burns, Director of Communications & Research Associate, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and
Research suggests a positive
feedback scenario, where more intense storms roil oceans and cause the latter to release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Loss of Carbon Sink: Warming
Tundra & Thawing Permafrost
relates to areas where the ground is frozen all year round, except for the upper layer that melts and freeze each year.
Permafrost may be continuous, discontinuous, or more sporadic -
and then typically in mountain areas.
Rising temperatures in the Arctic are melting the permafrost, causing it to release
greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. About 14 per cent of the world's carbon is stored in the permafrost of Arctic lands.
Permafrost, which is a solid structure of frozen soil and on which can be used to build homes and other buildings, can, with
rising temperatures, turn into a soft material causing subsidence and damage to buildings and structures. But worse yet is
if, as a positive feedback, it loses its characteristic as a carbon sink and begins leaking carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Svein Tveitdal, Managing Director of the Global Resource Information Database (GRID) in Arendal, Norway,
a UNEP environmental information center monitoring the melting of the permafrost, told a meeting at the 21st session of the
United Nation's Governing Council in Nairobi, Kenya on February 7, 2001: "Permafrost has acted as a carbon sink,
locking away carbon and other greenhouse gases like methane, for thousands of year. But there is now evidence that this is
no longer the case, and the permafrost in some areas is starting to give back its carbon. This could accelerate the greenhouse
Following is an excerpt from US Global Research Program Web Site (See USGRP Site
for More on Permafrost):
Permafrost underlies about 85% of Alaska,
everywhere except for a narrow belt along the southern coast. It varies widely, in depth, continuity, and ice content. Permafrost
has profound effects on hydrology (the land-based water cycle), erosion, vegetation, and human activities. It limits movement
of ground water and the rooting depth of plants. On slopes, it allows fluid-like movement of surface soil and deposits. Seasonal
thawing over continuous permafrost creates a saturated surface layer in which pools of meltwater accumulate, conducive to
marsh and tundra ecosystems and peat formation. Thawing permafrost creates thermokarst terrain -- uneven surface topography
that includes pits, troughs, mounds, and depressions, which can fill with water. Thermokarst damages agricultural fields and
ecosystems such as forests by drying in mounded areas and flooding in low-lying zones. Further, it can contribute to erosion
and increased sedimentation and siltation of rivers, which poses additional environmental concerns.
in Alaska has been warming for more than a century. Continuous permafrost on the North Slope of Alaska has warmed 4-7°F
over the last century. Because temperatures at the upper surface of continuous permafrost are still low, typically below 23°F,
no significant loss of continuous permafrost is projected over the 21st century. The discontinuous permafrost to the south
is warmer, usually above 28°F and increased warming at multiple sites (from 1 -- 3°F since the late 1980s) suggests
that much of the discontinuous permafrost south of the Yukon River and on the south side of the Seward Peninsula must already
be thawing. At some sites, the discontinuous permafrost is thawing at the top and the bottom.
With climate change,
warming ranging from 3 -- 18° F over the next 100 years is possible and will be accompanied by more precipitation in the
summer and winter. Thawing of Alaska's discontinuous permafrost will likely result from continued warming and predicted
increases in snow depth. This thawing, resulting in warmer soils, will speed decomposition reactions and release carbon dioxide
and methane, both greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere. Thawing of any permafrost increases groundwater mobility, increases
susceptibility to erosion and landslides, and can affect soil storage of carbon dioxide. If the thawed soil drains and dries
it could release carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, or storage of carbon dioxide in the soil could increase if the soil remains
Loss of Snowpack
Snowmelt is occuring earlier in the year in Alaska, according to a study by lead author, Terry Chapin, a professor of ecology
at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Institute of Arctic Biology. In the online journal Science Express (September,
2005) Professor Chapin found that the spring snowmelt had been occurring about 2.5 days earlier per decade, exposing dark
ground to solar heat earlier in the season. By absorbing and releasing heat, instead of reflecting heat back out into space,
"This heat is added to the atmosphere, so the atmosphere in the north becomes warmer and is mixed with the global atmosphere,"