Scientists at the Northern Arizona University have announced that the permafrost unfreeze will cause a prolonged and gradual release of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide.
Permafrost is soil mostly located in polar regions which is frozen year round. Permafrost is slightly thawing and decomposing as the world gets warmer, and the process produces increased amounts of methane.
As the Earth’s average temperatures continue their increase, scientists are trying to understand how emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities will affect the release of greenhouse gases from arctic permafrost. As the perennially ice-solid soil continues to unfreeze, the raise in greenhouse gas emissions could severely accelerate warming conditions shifts on Earth.
An approximate 1,330 billion to 1,580 billion tons of organic carbon are held in permafrost soils of Arctic and subarctic regions. Even higher quantities are believed to be stored deep in the frozen soil. The carbon is made up of plant and animal remnants that were trapped in the soil for thousands of years. Thawing, but also decomposition by microbes, triggers the release of methane greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Ted Schuur, NAU biology professor and lead author on a paper published in the Journal Nature warns: “Our big question is how much, how fast and in what form will this carbon come out.” The rate of climate change can be directly affected by the carbon release ratio.
The scientists carried out new research to conclude that unfreezing permafrost in the Arctic and subarctic areas will likely produce a gradual and prolonged discharge of important quantities of greenhouse gases which will last for decades. Natural ecosystems play a crucial role in the global carbon cycle, even if modern climate change is mostly attributed to fossil fuel burning and other human activities.
“Human activities might start something in motion by releasing carbon gases but natural systems, even in remote places like the Arctic, may add to this problem of climate change,” Schuur added.
Temperatures in the Arctic have increased twice as fast as elsewhere on Earth in the past 30 years.
The team of researchers now aims at presenting the next steps for improving knowledge on the dynamics of permafrost carbon and how it will affect the global carbon cycle.
Image Source: National Geographic