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Issue Home July 26, 2006 Site Home

100 Years Ago
Along the Way...With P. Jay

From the Desk of the D.A.
The Healthy Geezer
The Family Doctor
Straight From Starrucc
Earth Talk

100 Years Ago

HARFORD: Harford is noted as a fine summer resort and many residents of cities go there for relief from the sultry heat and confusion. There are many lakes here and their beautiful surroundings are enjoyed by all.

FOREST CITY: The official board of the Forest City Methodist church has decided to make extensive alterations and improvements to the present edifice, which when completed will give the congregation a larger and much more attractive place of worship.

GLENWOOD: Joe Cadden has the dog in his possession that killed the sheep. The owner can have him by claiming the property. One thing certain, he will kill no more sheep, for now he is a good doggie. Mr. Cadden has the finest crop of produce on his farm of any one around. His oats are at least six feet tall and the heads average 14 inches in length. His Early Fortune potatoes take 3 hills for a peck. His yellow flint corn is a sight to behold, stands 8 feet high and loaded with ears. His crops certainly look very promising. He uses the best seed that can be purchased and it pays.

CLIFFORD: Could a man conceive of a place where he would not sooner be placed than in front of the teeth of a horse rake with the rake attached to a horse running away? But such was the case in the dreadful accident to P. A. Rivenburg, July 18th. He left his horse hitched to a rake standing in the field where he had been raking and went to help Emory Green put on a load of hay. There came a very sharp clap of thunder and lightning, scaring the horse, which ran with the rake, passing close by where they were loading hay. Rivenburg thought he could catch his horse and made the attempt, but missed the horse and went under the rake [and] the horse ran with him rolling under the rake some 80 rods, when the rake struck a rock and let him out. Green and his workmen pitched him up for dead, placed him on the load of hay and took him to Dr. Hager’s office, where by the aid of two Drs. and the more than brotherly care of Rev. Sidney Rivenburg, at 4 o’clock the next morning he came to his right mind and it now looks as though he would recover.

UNIONDALE: Some of the lumbermen have gone back to the primitive way of carting and a number of ox teams with wide leather straps on them are daily passing, loaded with wood, R.R. ties or lumber and the deliberate way in which they move gives the drivers time to think and pray.

BIRCHARDVILLE: Dr. Fred S. Birchard, of Scranton, formerly of Birchardville, has an English dog with a solid gold tooth. A few days ago, noticing that one of its front teeth was very much decayed, Dr. Birchard took him to a dentist. The dentist suggested that the best thing to do was to insert a gold tooth, and the operation took a little more than half an hour. All that time the intelligent animal laid back in his master’s arms, submitting with an occasional whine of pain, and now he sports about the fine gold tooth, a curiosity for all the small boys of the community.

MONTROSE: Albert Miller has recently added to his tonsorial parlor a towel steamer, which makes his shop complete and up-to-date in every respect. Walter Benjamin, the well known barber, is assisting in his shop. AND: The managers of the Athletic baseball team have made arrangements with the “Phoebe Snow” team of the D.L.&W., at Scranton, for a game at Athletic Park, Aug. 18. The “Phoebe Snow” team has played 35 games this season and has won 33 and tied two.

LAWTON: It is reported that Isaiah Haire, has gone into bankruptcy. We regret to hear of Mr. Haire’s financial difficulties, which were aggravated by circumstances connected with the railroad survey through that place, when supposing all was in good faith, he boarded for a long time the gangs of surveyors, also advanced money to some of the men till the whole amount due him ran up into large sums. His indebtedness is given as $11,509.69 and his assets are set forth as being $15,665. Of this amount his property is valued at $10,300.

BRIDGEWATER TWP.: Mrs. Elmer Pickett, who was bitten by a rattlesnake last week, is recovering.

SUSQUEHANNA: The Susquehanna Erie league team of this place defeated the leaders of the league Saturday by a score of 4 to 0. The Galion, O., team expected to have a cinch and win in a walk but with the boy wonder, Ahern, in the box, they were up against the real thing. The local team is now the strongest one in the league and should win the pennant. They play in Hornell Saturday, and as these two teams are now tied for second place, it will be an interesting contest.

AUBURN TWP.: F. E. Fuller was appointed Judge in Nome, Alaska. He has been practicing in Nome since 1900. He came to Alaska in 1897 and first resided in Juneau. Mr. Fuller was born in West Auburn, the son of Charles Fuller. He was graduated from the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Conn. in 1890 and attended the law department of the National University, Washington D.C. He will take over Judge Reed’s position.

THOMPSON: Accidents and wrecks on the Jefferson Branch are about as frequent as the showers on the farmer’s hay, these days, with far sadder results. Last Sunday a boiler was burst between here and Stevens’ Point and the fireman was scalded so severely that he died in a few hours.

NEWS BRIEFS: It is a question never decided whether or not the farmer ought to work on Sunday in order to get in his crops if the weather looks threatening. Last Sunday scores of farmers in this section failed to put in an appearance at church and if you had visited their farms you could have seen them at work in the hayfield. Those who had hay down and did not get it in Sunday had it practically all spoiled by the rain that night. AND: The pendulum is swinging back. Old fashioned names for girls are again in favor after the years of Eloise, Mayme, Kathryn, et cetera. The girl who spelled her name Carrye now signs it Caroline and rejoices in the beautiful old-fashioned name. Sara has resumed her final “h” which she once dropped in disgust. Mollie, Marie and May are now Mary, a beautiful and modest name. Lizzie would be horrified if called anything but Elizabeth and Jennie wants to be known as Jane, with no mistake about it. Suzette and Susanne are glad to return to the plain, dignified old name of Susan and Nannette calls herself Nancy with more pleasure than she ever dreamed. AND: A thought for to-day--Make good your standing place and move the little sphere in which you dwell, by self-sacrifice and charity.


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Along the Way...With P. Jay

Miscellaneous Stuff

You gotta have heart...

I have been covering the Susquehanna County Courthouse as a reporter/columnist since 1989. During that time, I have met some good people and some real stinkers. But a recent issue really has me bewildered. I refer to the flood that caused so many problems in our county.

Some county employees did manage to get to work on June 28. Most of them that did live in Bridgewater Township, Montrose , Silver Lake Township or points west. Those that did not make it to the courthouse were either employees who live on the east side of Route 11 or in areas that really felt the wrath of the storm. A number of county employees had their homes damaged or destroyed by the flood waters. Needless to say, if my house was damaged or even threatened by a runaway flood, I sure would not be thinking about getting to work.

After reconsidering it, the union representing county employees recommended that the county pay all employees whether or not they made it to work. Two county commissioners concurred and all employees were paid for the day.

A nice gesture with a happy ending right? Wrong! Seems some of those employees that made it to work feel cheated. Some are even looking to be paid double for the day. One who lives within walking distance of the courthouse bragged about the fact that she made it to work. And one county commissioner who spent Tuesday night (June 27) in the courthouse because she could not get home due to washed away roads and bridges, voted against paying workers who did not show up for work on Wednesday (June 28).

My friends, Webster defines compassion as “Pity for the suffering or distress of another with the desire to help.” When there are floods hundreds of miles from us, many of our friends and neighbors go to help. Most of us send contributions to a relief fund for flood victims and pray for their safety.

And suddenly I sit here and find myself asking the question, “What the hell kind of co-workers begrudge a day’s pay to fellow employees who did not get into work because of washed away roads and bridges or because their homes were damaged by flood waters?”

From behind closed doors...

Officials at the Susquehanna County Jail inched closer to filling an important gap at the jail and while it may not stop the bleeding completely, it is a step in the right direction.

With the retirement of Warden Bill Brennan, we expected to see an advertisement for a jail warden and we did. What we didn't expect was that the plan has been extended to include hiring a second deputy warden. While it still will not provide supervision 24/7 it is an important step toward that goal.

Instead of finding money for things that really don’t need all that attention – like $1,300 he was prepared to pump into a project that was corrected with a larger light bulb – Commissioner Jeff Loomis should be looking at ways to come up with enough money to begin 24/7 supervision at the jail. This is an important move that could save lives and prevent lawsuits. I single out Commissioner Loomis because he is chair of the Inspectors of the Jail (aka Prison Board).

Get a load of this...

Wow! Even the school directors at the Blue Ridge School District are showing some heart. And these are the same people who sliced the paychecks of the tax collectors by 80 percent.

Blue Ridge, whose homeowners felt the brunt of that late June flood, has pushed the school tax payment days to September 1 and given district taxpayers through October 30 to pay the taxes and receive the customary two percent discount. They can pay their taxes at face amount from November 1 through December 31, and not pay a penalty until January.

So underneath their stingy hearts there are souls that do understand the problems of some. Way to go Blue Ridge School Board. I promise I shall not call you Black & Blue Ridge anymore...well, not for a while anyway.

Lets hear it for the FC Student Council...

The Forest City Student Council deserves a hand for tackling a beautification program in the school. The council wants to paint a wave on the walls in the hallway. It will feature the school colors – purple and gold- and at one point there will be a break where the letters FCR will be painted.

“Make sure we get something that is attractive and accepted by everybody,” were the words of advice offered to the council by School Superintendent Robert Vadella.

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From the Desk of the D.A.
By District Attorney Jason J. Legg

I have received a lot of questions concerning drug offenses and the manner in which drug offenders are sentenced. The mere possession of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor offense only punishable by no more than one year of incarceration. This charge is known as “simple possession” and has a very low offense gravity score, i.e., a score used to determine the seriousness of the offense (the higher the offense gravity score, the greater the sentence). Because the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission has placed such a low gravity score on the “simple” possession of a controlled substance, first, second or even third time offenders generally fall into a probationary sentence.

The Legislature and Sentencing Commission has applied the same rationale to the possession of drug paraphernalia, i.e., items that have been utilized in the use of controlled substances such as pipes, needles, baggies, razor blades and any similar items. This offense is also a misdemeanor offense only punishable by up to one year of incarceration. The Sentencing Commission has given this offense the lowest possible offense gravity score (even lower than “simple” possession of a controlled substance), and, as such, the potential for incarceration is likewise slim. Generally speaking, this offense also results in a probationary sentence unless the offender has a substantial prior criminal history. If the offender continues to use controlled substances while under probation, then the offender will be incarcerated.

The more interesting question is, when does simple possession turn into a felony offense. For instance, if a defendant is arrested with two pounds of marijuana, does this constitute simple possession of a controlled substance or something more? In such circumstances, a defendant can be charged with possession of a controlled substance with an intent to deliver the controlled substance to a third party, which is a felony offense with varying punishments. A jury would be allowed to infer that the defendant was a drug dealer, i.e., he possessed such a quantity of controlled substances that it is apparent that it was intended for more than personal use. Along with the weight of the controlled substance, other factors are considered to determine a defendant’s intent in the possession of the controlled substance, such as large quantities individually packaged for resale, unused packaging material found with the controlled substances, large quantities of cash seized, and weighing equipment.

In these cases, the “Sam’s Club” defense has been used time and again. In other words, a defendant will argue that he is a smart consumer who buys his drugs in bulk to save money. Just as a consumer does not need 140 rolls of toilet paper at one time, a defendant will argue that he bought his two pounds of marijuana to save money and use it over the long haul. The ultimate question of intent is for the jury to determine, whether the defendant intended on selling some or all of the marijuana or whether the defendant intended to personally use all of the controlled substance.

Even where a jury determines that a defendant possessed a controlled substance with the intent to deliver it to another person, a defendant can argue to the Court at the time of his sentencing that some of the controlled substance was for personal use and some was for distribution. By utilizing this argument, a defendant can lessen his sentence. Both the Legislature and the Sentencing Commission have assessed sentences for felony drug offenses based upon the weight of the controlled substance that was seized. Obviously, if a defendant can lessen the weight possessed for felony purposes, then the defendant falls into a less serious category for sentencing purposes.

For instance, in Commonwealth v. Carroll, a defendant was convicted of a felony drug offense for the possession of 2.7 grams of heroin, which carried a mandatory minimum sentence of two years of incarceration. After hearing evidence, the sentencing court determined that the defendant had a substantial heroin addiction, that he was grossly underweight and in poor health. Because the sentencing court determined that the defendant could have “easily” consumed the heroin himself, rather than distributing all of it to others, the sentencing court sentenced defendant to a 5 to 12 months incarceration – less than 25% of the mandatory minimum sentence that would have been two to four years incarceration. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the sentence, finding that the sentencing court properly determined that the defendant had a drug addiction and did not possess all of the heroin for distribution purposes.

Hopefully, this explanation will help the next time you read the paper and wonder why a particular drug offense received what appears to be a “light” sentence. If you disagree with this approach, you are not alone. Ultimately, any change in the current approach rests with a variety of entities – the Legislature, the Sentencing Commission and the appellate courts.

Please submit any questions, concerns, or comments to Susquehanna County District Attorney’s Office, P.O. Box 218, Montrose, Pennsylvania 18801.

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The Healthy Geezer
By Fred Cicetti

Q. My husband seems to stop breathing briefly during the night. It scares me, but he doesn’t seem to be worried about it. Any ideas about what causes this?

It’s possible that your husband is experiencing sleep apnea. I urge you to get your husband to a doctor for a diagnosis because sleep apnea can be a serious disorder. High blood pressure is common in sleep apnea. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep stoppages increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system, raising the risk of heart failure and stroke.

About 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. It’s much more common in older adults and men. Apnea is Greek for “without breath.”

People with sleep apnea stop breathing for as long as 30 seconds at a time. These interruptions can happen hundreds of times a night. The breathing cessations may wake you and prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. These awakenings usually are so brief that you don’t recall them.

There are two kinds of sleep apnea: central and obstructive.

If you have central sleep apnea, there’s a communication breakdown between the breathing muscles and your brain. It’s uncommon.

About 90 percent of sleep-apnea victims have obstructive apnea, which is caused by a blockage in the windpipe. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax. These muscles support the soft palate, tonsils, tongue and uvula – that doohickey that hangs in the back of your mouth. When the muscles relax, your airway is narrowed and breathing is cut off. A blockage can also be caused by a lot of fatty tissue in the throat.

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include: excessive daytime sleepiness; loud snoring, observed episodes of breathing stoppages during sleep; abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath; awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat; morning headache; problems associated with sleep deprivation such as forgetfulness and mood changes.

A common treatment for sleep apnea that helps most sufferers is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). You sleep with a special mask that adds pressure to the air you breathe. Mild cases of apnea can be treated with dental devices that move your jaw forward to make breathing easier. In very few cases, surgery is necessary to remove tonsils or extra tissue from the throat.

There are some self-help techniques: Sleep on your side instead of your back. Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue and soft palate to rest against the back of your throat and block your airway. Eliminate alcoholic beverages and sleep medicines, which relax the muscles in your throat. Quit smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant and can interfere with sleep. Smoke is an irritant to nose, throat and lungs. Lose weight. A fat neck tends to narrow the airway in your throat.

(Note: In my research, I often seem to run into warnings against alcohol, tobacco and fat. Must be something to it.)

When you go to a doctor for a diagnosis, he or she may refer you to a sleep disorder center. You may be asked to undergo overnight monitoring of your breathing and other body functions during sleep. You may also be referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor to rule out any blockage in your nose or throat.

If you have a question, please write to

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The Family Doctor
By Dr. Richard Hacker

I certainly hope it has cooled down by the time you read this, but as I write it, it occurs to me that many people have no idea how to keep their cool. It’s been over 90 for a couple of days, heat-exhaustion cases are showing up in the ER, and it seems like a good time to write about keeping cool.

The body has a lot of ways to keep cool, and nearly all of them involve hydration to some degree. Thus, the best way to stay cool is to stay hydrated. Carry a favorite water bottle around with you and make it a point to drink a quart of water a day. Unfortunately, trying to make the water taste better by making it soda, juice, or coffee is only counterproductive and can even be harmful. At the same time, there is no need to spend money on special energy drinks or “balanced salt solutions” because they aren’t necessary for most people. Dehydration can be very subtle, too. Thirst is a late sign, and you may have no signs or symptoms until you’re seriously dry, and need an IV.

If staying hydrated is important, staying relaxed is too. There’s a reason the siesta is at noon, when the sun is highest and the heat is hottest: the more active you are, the more you add to your own internal heat. Body heat is generated by muscle activity, so the less active you are, the less heat you generate. Relax, put your feet up, and slow down when it gets hot. You’ll notice that everybody around you is moving more slowly too.

As a corollary to that, the more you stop moving, the more you should have air (or water) moving over you. As molecules of air or water hit your body, they absorb heat, so the more molecules you have wafting over you, the cooler you’ll feel. A fan is fine, even if it doesn’t have an air-conditioner attached to it. Immersion is even better, especially in a current. I’m still a little angry at the Susquehanna River so I won’t suggest swimming in it, but now is the time to cultivate friendships with people who have pools, or at the very least, let your kids run through the sprinkler.

“Convection” is the process by which heat is given off when molecules hit you. Your body also cools itself by “conduction” (which is direct contact with a cooler object), and even by radiation. Now before you start thinking that “radiation” means running out to get a tan, (or that you’re going to glow in the dark when you’re hot) let me explain that radiation can also mean the outward expansion of energy, (in this case, heat) from your body into the atmosphere around it. You’re not radioactive, (although looking at crisply tanned people makes one wonder) but you do have the need to emit (radiate) heat energy. That process is easier when the radiated energy has a way to get out and someplace to go. Staying cool means wearing loose clothing with plenty of room to “breathe” and having lots of nice open space around you. There’s a reason small rooms seem stifling.

The final mechanism by which heat is expelled is “evaporation.” As molecules of water leave your body, they take heat with them. That is, unless you’re blocking the process to smell like pine trees or musk oxen. It’s unfortunate that the things we often do to co-exist with others (like antiperspirants and deodorants) can sometimes be harmful to ourselves. Then again, we expect it of others, especially if we have to sit next to them on the bus. It all raises interesting questions about society and getting along with others, but that could fill another hundred columns. Perhaps a reasonable compromise is to suggest more deodorants (which don’t block sweat) versus antiperspirants (which do) and leave it at that. Which raises another issue: antiperspirants are not the only chemicals that interfere with sweating and cooling. Be sure to ask your doctor about blood pressure medications, antidepressants, seizure and pain meds you may be taking, since all of these can interfere with body cooling. In fact, most heat-stroke and heat-exhaustion victims are elderly people on multiple medications, stuck at home. You’d think it would be more the young and active athletes, but it’s the elderly who suffer most from heat. Check in on your neighbors when it’s inordinately hot. Make sure they have a bottle of water and a fan, at the very least.

Now, to summarize the means by which you must cope with heat: you need to be well hydrated, you need to be resting, and you should be enjoying the breezes wafting over you while casually dressed in loose clothing and unconcerned about wet underarms. In other words: swaying gently in the shade while relaxing in a hammock with a cool glass of spring water is JUST what the doctor ordered. Since I must be certain that my advice is sound, I intend to go out and do that right now.

As always, if there is something you want to learn more about or have explained in general terms, write to me at “Ask the Family Doctor” c/o Susquehanna County Transcript, 212-216 Exchange Street, Susquehanna, PA 18847. You can also e-mail me at To schedule an appointment, call my office in the Barnes-Kasson Health Center, 853-3135 or 879-5249.

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Straight From Starrucca
By Margaret M. Dickey

Baltimore’s Institute of Technology last Friday, July 14, found Gale Williams seated in the audience. She was there to see her grandson, Michael Williams graduate with a degree in Diesel Technology. Michael is the son of Scott and Joann Williams of State College, PA.

Frank and Ruth Mroczka attended a retirement dinner recently in Princeton, NJ, for a friend who retired after 40 years with the Educational Testing Service (ETS). It was an enjoyable evening all around, as our friends from Starrucca were able to reacquaint themselves with many of their old friends.

A church filled to capacity Saturday, July 15 at the memorial service for Shirley Virginia Kopp (Ginny) was a tribute to the esteem in which she was held.

The square dance, despite the heat last Saturday night, the 15th, was very well attended and the kitchen sold many bottles of water to keep the thirsty dancers on the floor.

Brett Upright, Modena, NY, was home over the weekend to attend the memorial service for his aunt, Ginny Kopp.

Joe Skurski, a resident of King Hill for many years, passed away Friday, July 14, and was buried Monday, July 17 beside his wife, Helen, in the Catholic cemetery. The ladies served luncheon in the Baptist Church social rooms for the members and friends of the family. Joe was engaged in farming most of his life.

“Spare Parts,” a bluegrass band will be entertaining July 29 from 7 – 9 at the Community Hall. Refreshments will be sold. Bluegrass buffs, mark your calendar and come along.

“War doesn’t determine who is right. It determines who is left.”

A woman walked into her kitchen and asked her husband what he was doing. “Killing flies, three males and two females.” “How could you tell?” “Three were on the beer can and the other two were on the telephone.” Courtesy of the Meadow wood Newsletter. My sister sends me the letter from their retirement home in Lansdale, PA.


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From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: The soda bottle I'm holding only lists a few U.S. states and deposit amounts on it. Aren't more than just a few states requiring that bottles be returned for recycling?

Calvin Terry, Castine, ME

Currently 11 American states have “bottle bill” laws on the books that require a deposit of usually five or 10 cents on beer and soda cans and bottles that can be redeemed when empties are returned to the store. The state of Oregon pioneered such legislation, passing the first U.S. bottle bill back in 1971. Hawaii has the newest one, enacted in 2002. Meanwhile, all but two of Canada’s 13 provinces (the remote Northwest Territories and Nunavut) have bottle bills. As with the American laws, Canada’s provinces require deposits on all beverage containers other than those containing milk.

The Container Recycling Institute (CRI), an advocacy group based in Washington, DC, works for the passage of new bottle bills and the strengthening of existing ones. According to CRI, bottle bills make sense because they encourage recycling and, in conjunction with curbside recycling programs, extend the life of landfills by keeping cans and bottles out. Indeed, recycling rates in states with bottle bills can be as much as three times higher than in states without them.

Such programs also help reduce litter. Studies have shown that beverage container legislation has reduced total roadside litter by as much as 64 percent in regions with bottle bills. Another documented benefit has been a reduction in incidents of glass laceration, simply because fewer glass bottles end up broken on sidewalks, streets and in kids’ play areas. One Massachusetts study attributed a 60 percent decline in reported childhood glass lacerations once the state’s bottle bill went into effect.

Despite these benefits, however, many beverage manufacturers oppose bottle bills, arguing that the five to 10 cents added to the price of their products deters customers even though the deposits are redeemable. These companies have effectively squelched bottle bills in many U.S. states through the sheer power of their lobbying efforts. Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and others have spent millions fighting bottle bills, complaining that such legislation duplicates community recycling programs already in place.

But CRI says the argument has been “wrongly cast in either/or terms,” that refundable deposits and curbside recycling programs are not mutually exclusive and should be part of a comprehensive approach to recycling, “If the goal is to maximize recovery of recyclables [and] reduce reliance on raw materials for manufacturing new containers, then a combination of recovery options should be employed to ensure the highest recovery rates possible.”

Beverage sales are growing, especially bottled water and other non-carbonated drinks. And the waste has been growing as well. According to CRI, some 118 billion aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers were discarded and not recycled in 2002 alone, more than double the number 20 years earlier. The main issue is really who should pay the costs of recycling. Refundable deposits are fair, says CRI, because they put the costs on the producers and consumers of the beverages instead of on the local communities and taxpayers.

CONTACT: Container Recycling Institute,

Dear EarthTalk: What are the implications of the massive thaw that is taking place right now in Western Siberia?

Brad Arnold, St. Louis Park, MN

Russian researchers returned from an exploratory mission in Western Siberia last year to report that the world’s largest frozen peat bog there, land as large as France and Germany combined, was quickly melting away “into shallow lakes.” Sergei Kirpotin, a botanist at Russia’s Tomsk State University and the leader of the research effort, told the journal New Scientist that the situation was an “ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming.”

The main worry is that as much as a billion tons of methane – a “greenhouse gas” 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – could be rapidly released from the bog, where it has been sitting harmlessly for thousands of years. This flush of methane into the atmosphere could, in turn, further warm the atmosphere.

Western Siberia has warmed faster than almost any other area of the planet, with an average temperature increase of about three degrees Celsius over the last four decades alone. Kirpotin believes that man-made climate change, combined with cyclical changes in atmospheric circulation caused by melting ice, is to blame. Similar patterns are developing in Eastern Siberia and across the Arctic stretches of Alaska.

Siberia’s peat bogs formed about 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. The huge bog in question is thought to contain 70 billion tons of methane, or about a quarter of all the methane stored on the Earth’s surface worldwide. If it continues to thaw, as it seems likely to do, researchers fear that the methane could force a “tipping point” (point of no return) in the ability of the Earth’s climate to regulate itself.

“When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it’s unstoppable,” says climate researcher David Viner of England’s University of East Anglia. “This is a big deal because you can't put the permafrost back once it is gone.”

In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group of climate researchers, estimated that global temperatures could rise as much as 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100, thanks to known sources of greenhouse gas emissions. According to Viner, scientists did not even anticipate the possibility of events like this when making their predictions, and how much they could add to the warming.

Environmentalists are using the Western Siberia findings to step up pressure on world leaders to take concerted action on climate change. Says Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth in the United Kingdom, “If we don't take action very soon, we could unleash runaway global warming that will be beyond our control and it will lead to social, economic and environmental devastation worldwide. There’s still time to take action, but not much.”

CONTACT: New Scientist,

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at:, or e-mail: Read past columns at:

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