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New Siberian cave research urgently needed amid fresh fears of global warming

By The Siberian Times reporter
23 February 2013

Research of stalactites and stalagmites in a cave near Lensk in Sakha Republic show the dire threat to the planet from global warming, says a new study.

A melt could unleash as much as 1,000 giga-tonnes of 'frozen' carbon dioxide and methane gases into the atmosphere but also destabilise everything from oil and gas pipelines to buildings and roads

These rocks only grow when water drips, so are accurate guides to periods when permafrost melted. The scientists from Britain, Russia, Mongolia, and Switzerland found that these stalactites last grew 400,000 years ago in a naturally warm period.

Other ancient records suggest that at this time temperatures were 1.5C above 19th century levels. 

From this they deduce that it would take only a small amount of global warming to thaw vast areas of frozen ground and release harmful stores of greenhouse gases.

Such a melt could unleash as much as 1,000 giga-tonnes of 'frozen' carbon dioxide and methane gases into the atmosphere but also destabilise everything from oil and gas pipelines to buildings and roads.

'Global climates only slightly warmer than today are sufficient to thaw significant regions of permafrost,' they reported in the journal Science based on their work in the Ledyanaya Lenskaya Cave near Lensk.

A global rise of 1.5C above late 19th century temperatures, which is less than a 2C ceiling for global warming set in 2009 by almost 200 countries, could bring a substantial thaw as far north as 60 degrees latitude, they said.

Sixty degrees girdles the world through Siberia, the Nordic nations, the southern tip of Greenland, Canada and southern Alaska. UN studies show that temperatures have already risen by about 0.7C since the 19th century and are still rising.

Anton Vaks, lead author of the study at Oxford University in the UK, said: 'We need to study more caves, further north in Siberia.'

The timescale on new research is unclear.

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