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Executive Summary for June 2nd

We review the latest Arctic news, including a look at a little-examined greenhouse gas, a gigantic torrent of water released from the Greenland Ice Sheet and the newfound freedom of three Russian vessels trapped in sea ice for five months.

Published on June 2, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

No Laughing Matter

Nitrous oxide isn’t usually mentioned in discussions of the greenhouse gases driving climate change. But a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the gas is a bigger threat than previously thought.

As Scientific American reports, nitrous oxide is about 300 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide over a 100-year timeframe. And research has found that the gas is being released by thawing permafrost peatlands, which cover about one-quarter of the Arctic.

One Big Wave

Researchers have found that the Greenland Ice Sheet disgorged a swell of meltwater so big that it warped the solid earth beneath it.

As the Washington Post reports, the swell of water was equal in mass to 18,000 Empire State Buildings. Put another way, that’s equal to 150 million fully loaded 18-wheelers. Researchers tracked the pulse travelling nearly 24km (15 miles) through a western Greenland glacier until it reached the sea in 2012.

The disgorge was still just a tiny fraction of the meltwater released by Greenland each year. If all of Greenland melted, it would raise global sea levels by 6m (20ft).

Free at Last

After spending a long five months trapped in Arctic ice, three Russian ships have broken free of the East Siberian sea.

As the Barents Observer reports, two cargo vessels and an icebreaker departed from Arkhangelsk in the middle of winter to make an unprecedented journey to Pevek. They made their destination with difficulty in early January, but then found themselves locked in ice and unable to return, leaving about 100 sailors stranded. The local government provided food and water, and electrical cables were run to the ships to provide power.

The ships carried construction materials to help build a port for Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant. Russian officials are now working on plans to avoid similar difficulties in the future.

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