New estimate boosts permafrost contribution to climate change
A survey of 41 scientists — including seven University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers — estimates the amount of carbon released from thawing permafrost by 2100 will be 1.7 to 5.2 times larger than previously estimated. Their conclusions, reported Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, describe permafrost thawing as a likely accelerator of global warming.
“Our collective estimate is that carbon will be released more quickly than models suggest, and at levels that are cause for serious concern,” the article states.
The higher figures come about because of an ongoing reevaluation of the carbon stored in permafrost.
In most soils such material is typically in the top several feet, but in frozen soils those carbon-filled sediments can be much deeper.
Because of that, the estimated amount of carbon stored in northern soils has tripled in recent years, to roughly 1,700 billion tons. That’s four times more than all the carbon emitted by human activity since the Industrial Revolution and twice as much as is currently present in the atmosphere.
“Soils in the north are cold,” said Ben Abbott, a UAF doctoral student at the Institute of Arctic Biology and co-author of the Nature article. “It’s like a big refrigerator, and all that material is just stored.”
Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - New estimate boosts permafrost contribution to climate change