Frozen soil sediment deposit in Siberia. Photo: Edward A.G. Schuur
The Global Carbon Project has released a new study that indicates northern hemisphere land areas contain about twice the permafrost previously thought, and melting of this permafrost could significantly accelerate the impacts of global warming.
Permafrost is carbon-rich frozen ground that covers vast areas of northern Asia, Europe, North America. Frozen for centuries, it is beginning to thaw and produce greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide.
As more greenhouse gases from fossil fuel burning heat the atmosphere, more permafrost thaws. As permafrost thaws, it too emits its own share of greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide. A key concern of scientists is that thawing permafrost will further increase the rate of planet heating already underway driven our burning of fossil fuels coal, oil, and natural gas.
This "feedback" process, where rising temperatures beget even more rising temperatures, is one of the great unknowns in climate research. Will we see runaway temperature increases as permafrost melts and adds even more methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere?
Global Carbon Project: Soil Organic Carbon Pools in the Northern Circumpolar Permafrost Region