The Arctic's extremely cold, wet conditions prevent dead plants and animals from decomposing, so each year another layer gets added to the reservoirs of organic carbon sequestered just beneath the topsoil. Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon -- an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That's about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth's soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850... But, as scientists are learning, permafrost -- and its stored carbon -- may not be as permanent as its name implies... "Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures - as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years," [Charles] Miller [of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California] said. "As heat from Earth's surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic's carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming." Current climate models do not adequately account for the impact of climate change on permafrost and how its degradation may affect regional and global climate.Just, you know, FYI.
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Tuesday, June 11, 2013
When Permafrost Loses Its Permanence