Experts Predict More Greenhouse Gas From Thawing Permafrost

International climate experts predict more greenhouse gases’ from thawing permafrost. A synopsis of a survey of 41 scientists is in an article published this week in the journal Nature. University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student and project co-leader Ben Abbot says thawing permafrost has long been recognized as a major source of carbon dioxide and methane, but the survey shows scientists believe the potential to be much greater.

That carbon is from dead plants and animals accumulated and preserved in chilled northern soils over millions of years. Abbot says current estimates put the amount of CO2 and methane locked in frozen soils at more than is currently embodied by all living things.

The carbon release from permafrost thawing is forecast to be greater than from deforestation, but secondary to human fossil fuel burning.  Abbot says surveyed scientists believe the release of permafrost carbon will not be linear.

Abbot calls the survey results a best guess at what’s going to happen.  Research underway, including projects out of U.A.F.’s Toolik Lake field station in the Brooks Range, is aimed at quantifying the hypothesis with hard data.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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