Abrupt thaw in permafrost heightens climatic threat

December 4th, 2011 - 3:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 4 (IANS) The warming Arctic will release greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost faster and at significantly higher levels than previous estimates, reveals a study.

According to researchers, thawing permafrost will release approximately the same amount of carbon as deforestation, but the effect on climate will be 2.5 times bigger because emissions include methane, which has a greater effect on warming than carbon dioxide (CO2).

The survey, led by researchers Edward Schuur and Benjamin Abbott from Universities of Florida and Alaska respectively, asked climate experts what percentage of the surface permafrost is likely to thaw, how much carbon will be released and how much of that carbon will be methane.

The authors estimate that the amount of carbon released by 2100 will be 1.7 to 5.2 times larger than reported in recent studies, which had used a similar warming scenario, the journal Nature reported.

“The larger estimate is due to the inclusion of processes missing from current models and new estimates of the amount of organic carbon stored deep in frozen soils,” said researcher Benjamin Abbott, according to a university statement.

“There is more organic carbon in northern soils than there is in all living things combined; it is kind of mind boggling,” he added.

According to latest research the northern soils hold around 1,700 billion gigatons of organic carbon, around four times more than all the carbon ever emitted by modern human activity and twice as much as is now in the atmosphere.

When permafrost thaws, organic material in the soil decomposes and releases gases such as methane and carbon dioxide.

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