We are caught in a vicious circle, as ancient permafrost melts and aggravates CO2 gas emissions due to global warming, which in turn will further support climate change.
- Researchers studied permafrost, and the content of carbon dioxide it can release
- The carbon within the permafrost was 35,000 years old, but not degraded in the slightest
- The permafrost thaws and decomposes quickly releasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
- This will exacerbate global warming
Researchers from Florida State University, Colorado University, and the U.S. Geological Survey have conducted an analysis on “yedoma”. It’s permafrost soil typically found in the frozen lands across Alaska and Siberia, which accounts for most of the permafrost soil carbon pool.
Taking into consideration our ever increasing temperatures, they studied what will happen when they will thaw.
After taking samples of ancient permafrost from Alaska, they found that it still contained frozen carbon. It was dated as far back as 35,000 years ago, still preserved and waiting to be released into the atmosphere. Giving the growing temperatures our planet is currently experiencing, that situation might arrive soon.
According to the researchers, permafrost is highly biodegradable. The moment it thaws, the organic carbon is immediately attacked by microbes, which further releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This enhances the problem of climate change, as CO2 gas emissions are one of the leading factors contributing to global warming.
The gasses remain up in the atmosphere, aggravating the problem.
For the first time, however, scientists were able to see just how fast that happens. After their sample began to thaw, it took as little as 200 hours for half of it to be gone under the influence of microbes. Apparently, according to Robert Spencer, the tiny organisms “really enjoy” it. And that’s unfortunate news for us.
The researchers estimated that there’s twice the amount of carbon stored in permafrost than there currently is in our atmosphere. If it continues to melt, it would cause a severe impact on the environment and various ecosystems. It’s worrying how fast the permafrost decomposes, and how much of it has been stored for thousands of years.
The study’s lead author, Kim Wickland, at the U.S. Geological Survey, has stated that previous studies wrongly estimated that permafrost soil carbon was “already degraded”. However, it’s just starting and might be continuing in the future. And the thawing to decomposition process will be very quick.
Unfortunately, the process is also caught in a vicious cycle. Increased temperatures causes the permafrost to thaw, then the released CO2 aggravates global warming in return, which further accelerates the melting of more frozen permafrost soil.
Image source: johnshawphoto.com