Melting Arctic Permafrost Will Release 10x More Carbon Into Atmosphere

Wednesday, 07 March 2018 - 11:02AM
Science News
Wednesday, 07 March 2018 - 11:02AM
Melting Arctic Permafrost Will Release 10x More Carbon Into Atmosphere
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Image credit: YouTube
This isn't good.

A new study from NASA into the melting permafrost that covers much of the Arctic predicts that once the frost has thawed, the area will begin to produce an enormous amount more carbon than we'll be able to deal with.

It turns out all of our efforts to reduce humanity's carbon footprint may be in vain if this ice thaws, as over the next three hundred years, we'll be seeing 10x more carbon enter the atmosphere than was released by our species in the entire year of 2016. This clearly isn't going to end well for whoever's left alive by this point.

The problem with this permafrost is that it's trapped a lot of organic matter—dead plants and soil—in a layer of cold that has prevented them from adequately decomposing. Once the soil is no longer frozen, all of that biowaste will decay at once, releasing huge clouds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and increasing global temperatures to unseen heights.

There's a distinct smell of John Carpenter's The Thing coming off this entire issue—somewhere, buried up in the arctic snow, is a terrible destructive force that can corrupt our entire planet if it ever manages to thaw out.

(Yes, The Thing took place in Antarctica, but still, the similarities are abundant.)

At present, it looks like we might get away with not having to deal with this impending greenhouse apocalypse just yet - the permafrost isn't expected to start thawing in earnest for another few decades. This prediction, though, is based on the expectation that man-made global warming won't increase over this time, and that's probably not a safe bet.

NASA does also predict that increased photosynthesis from plants will help to offset some of this new carbon dioxide, but again, this isn't something we can afford to take a chance with. If we're not careful, we could end up seeing global temperatures rise far faster than anticipated, as the melted permafrost and subsequent decomposition of frozen soil will mean that the climate change ball will start rolling faster and faster until the planet is unlivable.

According to NASA's Nicholas Parazoo, who led this new study, we really don't have time to wait around. As the scientists undertook their study, they realized that previous estimates of the time of this thawing were completely out of line:

Opening quote
"Permafrost in southern Alaska and southern Siberia is already thawing, so it's obviously more vulnerable. Some of the very cold, stable permafrost in the highest latitudes in Alaska and Siberia appeared to be sheltered from extreme climate change, and we didn't expect much impact over the next couple hundred years."
Closing quote

So instead of seeing the permafrost melt slowly over the coming centuries, this process looks like it's going to take decades. Many of us will still be alive to see the planet engulfed in intense storms as the melted ice caps wreak havoc with the planet's global weather patterns.

Here's hoping that whatever species takes over the planet next, it'll avoid making our stupid mistakes all over again.
Science News