Scientists amazed as Canadian permafrost thaws 70 years early

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Solar-powered scientific equipment records data in a landscape of intact Arctic permafrost near Isachsen, Canada in this handout photo released June 18, 2019. (Reuters)
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General view of a landscape of intact Arctic permafrost near Mould Bay, Canada, taken by researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2004, is seen in this handout photo released June 18, 2019. (Reuters)
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General view of a landscape of partially thawed Arctic permafrost near Mould Bay, Canada, in this handout photo released June 18, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 19 June 2019

Scientists amazed as Canadian permafrost thaws 70 years early

  • “This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately”

LONDON: Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared.
A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilized the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia.
“What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university, told Reuters by telephone. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.”
With governments meeting in Bonn this week to try to ratchet up ambitions in United Nations climate negotiations, the team’s findings, published on June 10 in Geophysical Research Letters, offered a further sign of a growing climate emergency.
The paper was based on data Romanovsky and his colleagues had been analizing since their last expedition to the area in 2016. The team used a modified propeller plane to visit exceptionally remote sites, including an abandoned Cold War-era radar base more than 300 km from the nearest human settlement.
Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognizable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier.
The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks — waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.
Torn between professional excitement and foreboding, Romanovsky said the scene had reminded him of the aftermath of a bombardment.
“It’s a canary in the coalmine,” said Louise Farquharson, a post-doctoral researcher and co-author of the study. “It’s very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region and that’s what we’re going to look at next.”
Scientists are concerned about the stability of permafrost because of the risk that rapid thawing could release vast quantities of heat-trapping gases, unleashing a feedback loop that would in turn fuel even faster temperature rises.
Even if current commitments to cut emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement are implemented, the world is still far from averting the risk that these kinds of feedback loops will trigger runaway warming, according to models used by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
With scientists warning that sharply higher temperatures would devastate the global south and threaten the viability of industrial civilization in the northern hemisphere, campaigners said the new paper reinforced the imperative to cut emissions.
“Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it’s happening before our very eyes,” said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International. “This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately.”


Google enters battle for cloud gaming market

Updated 17 November 2019

Google enters battle for cloud gaming market

SAN FRANCISCO, California: Ever-expanding Google becomes a gaming company Tuesday with the launch of its Stadia cloud service that lets people play console-quality video games on a web browser or smartphone.
The Internet giant hopes to break into the global video game industry expected to top $150 billion this year, with cloud technology that could broaden audiences attracted by rich new features as well as ease of access with no more need for consoles.
But analysts say Stadia’s outlook is uncertain as its faces rivals such as PlayStation Now in an emerging and highly-competitive market.
Stadia plays into a trend in which content — ranging from blockbuster films to work projects — lives in the cloud and is accessible from any device.
“All of these new services are merely pointing out that we don’t need sophisticated hardware in the home to access entertainment,” said Wedbush Securities equity research managing director Michael Pachter.
Google last month sold out of “Founder’s Edition” kits, which are priced at $129.
Each kit contains a Stadia controller and a pendant-shaped Chromecast Ultra wireless connection device that plugs into television sets.
Stadia games are playable using Google Chrome web browser software on computers.
It also works with Google-made Pixel smartphones from the second-generation onward, and on televisions.
Stadia Pro subscriptions, priced at $10 a month in the US, will be available in 14 countries in North America and Europe.

'Underwhelming'
However, analysts say Stadia could wind up as another “bet” that Google walks away from if it fails to live up to expectations.
“Stadia will live or die by its content,” said Ovum senior analyst George Jijiashvili.
“The announced 12 launch titles are underwhelming.”
Subscribers will be able to buy games that will be hosted at Google data-centers, but some free games will be available to subscribers, starting with “Destiny 2: The Collection.”
Stadia on smartphones will work with WiFi connections rather than rely on mobile telecom services.
Being able to play without lags or interruptions is paramount to gamers, and flawed Internet connections could cause frustration. Internet speed will also determine how rich in-game graphics can be.
Some promised features such as integration with YouTube will not be in place at launch.
“Stadia appears to be rushed out the door before fully ready and, worryingly, Google is risking falling short on its promises,” Jijiashvili said.
“These shortcomings however would be easily overlooked if Google can deliver a very reliable and high-quality game streaming service.”
Google appears committed to doing just that, according to Ubisoft senior vice president of partnerships Chris Early.
The French video game giant has been working with Google and its games are among titles coming to the service.
“From what I have seen, their plans are too deep; they are too good, and they are too invested,” Early said. “They are not calling it quits any time soon.”
He expects a long launch period during which Google will beef up Stadia.
“If there is a one-day problem at launch, it isn’t the end of the world; it isn’t even close,” he said, stressing the potential for Stadia to let people play without investing in consoles.
But Pachter questioned whether subscriptions were the right approach.
“The right model is pay as you go or pay for the game and play unlimited without a subscription,” Pachter said.
“Amazon will try one of those and will win the streaming wars.”
Amazon has game studios but no online game service.

Project xCloud
US technology veteran Microsoft has been testing a Project xCloud online game platform.
“Next year, we’ll bring Project xCloud to Windows PCs, and are collaborating with a broad set of partners to make game streaming available on other devices as well,” Microsoft corporate vice president Kareem Choudhry said in an online post.
Sony Interactive Entertainment last month slashed the price of its PlayStation Now cloud video game service by about half in the US to $10 monthly.
Japan-based Sony also boosted the library of games that PlayStation Now users can access through its consoles or on personal computers powered by Windows software.
Sony and Microsoft are also poised to release new-generation video game consoles next year.
“While we expect dedicated consoles to eventually lose relevance in the face of cloud gaming services, there’s no guarantee that it will be Google’s service — rather than Sony and Microsoft’s — that catalyzes this trend,” said Ovum senior analyst Matthew Bailey.