Climate: Permafrost meltdown triggers quick release of greenhouse gases to atmosphere

USGS researchers make ground-based permafrost measurements in Alaska.

USGS researchers make ground-based permafrost measurements in Alaska. Photo courtesy USGS.

Alaska study helps quantify climate impacts of melting permafrost

Staff Report

Much of the carbon stored in ancient Alaska soils could be released to the atmosphere shortly upon melting, according to a new study that aimed to help quantify how fast permafrost decomposes and how much carbon dioxide is produced in the process.

The measurements are important because frozen organic soils are not part of the carbon cycle — but they will be as they thaw, potentially releasing huge amounts of heat-trapping gases. Continue reading

New data network to track permafrost meltdown

How soon, how fast & how much?

Antarctica permafrost

Antarctic permafrost is melting at an accelerating rate. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

LINZ — The Earth’s permafrost regions are one of the biggest wild cards in the climate change equation. Some researchers have warned that a quick meltdown could release so much methane that it would trigger runaway global warming, while other recent studies suggest that permafrost will probably melt gradually.

The bottom line is that scientists still don’t know for sure how fast the meltdown will be, but a new data portal called the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost will help researchers coordinate information and serve as an early warning system for researchers and decision-makers around the globe.

Continue reading

NASA to take big-picture look at Arctic climate change

Space-based data to help reveal ecosystem changes

Satellites have long been tracking sea ice loss in the Canadian Arctic, and new climate models suggest that glaciers in the region are also declining rapidly. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory page for more information.

Satellites have long been tracking sea ice loss in the Canadian Arctic, and new climate models suggest that glaciers in the region are also declining rapidly. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory page for more information.

Staff Report

FRISCO — With more and more studies showing big climate-change impacts to Arctic and subarctic ecosystems, NASA is launching a research project to try and understand the bigger picture.

Some recent studies have shown how boreal forests are shifting quickly as temperatures in the high latitudes soar faster than than the rest of the planet. Biologists are trying to project how global warming will affect wildlife in the region, while another study projects that the “green-up” of the Arctic will amplify global warming.

NASA’s 10-year Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) will bring together on-the-ground research in Alaska and northwestern Canada with data collected by NASA airborne instruments, satellites and other agency programs, including SMAP, OCO-2, and upcoming ICESat-2 and NISAR missions. Continue reading

Climate: Another warning on permafrost ‘tipping point’


Melting permafrost could trigger a massive surge in global greenhouse gas emissions.

‘The real and imminent threat posed by permafrost thawing must be communicated clearly and broadly to the general public and the policy community’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Policy makers should pay more attention to the potential to the potential for greenhouse gas emissions from melting permafrost, a team of researchers warned in a special bulletin, released as President Obama prepares to attend an international conference on the Arctic.

Arctic permafrost – ground that has been frozen for many thousands of years – is thawing, and the results could be disastrous and irreversible, potentially triggering a spiral of global warming far beyond any of the scenarios currently envisioned, a team of scientists with the Woods Hole Research Center wrote in a policy brief. Continue reading

Ocean whitening to fight global warming? Scratch that one off the list


The Arctic is heating up fast, which will have big effects on the rest of the planet, but plans to slow the meltdown by whitening the ocean surface probably wouldn’t work.

Another geoengineering scheme found lacking

Staff Report

FRISCO — It works on teeth, so why not the Arctic? At least that’s what some engineers have said, proposing that artificially whitening parts of the far northern ocean could help solve Earth’s global warming woes.

Ideas include using enormous quantities of  floating grains or microbubbles that would reduce the absorption of the Sun’s rays. But it’s far from clear whether the Rube Goldberg schemes are feasible and whether or not they would have the desired environmental effect. Continue reading

Carbon release from melting permafrost may gradual


The average temperature of permafrost has increased by 11 degrees Fahrenheit in 30 years.

New study takes detailed look at dynamics of permafrost meltdown

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — One of the big uncertainties in the pace of global warming is how fast greenhouse gases will be released from thawing permafrost, which stores huge amounts of carbon.

A sudden meltdown and discharge could result in a spike in the concentration of heat-trapping gases and big surge in global temperatures, but a new study suggests that release of greenhouse gases from permafrost soils in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions will be more gradual and prolonged. Continue reading

Climate: Study eyes seafloor methane releases


More methane means more global warming.

Thin permafrost cap at risk as oceans warm

Staff Report

FRISCO — Arctic scientists say a thin cap of seafloor permafrost that caps potent greenhouse gases will probably start to leak more as the oceans warm.

The research focused on the Kara Sea near Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, where recent permafrost sinkholes have triggered concerns about increasing releases of methane. Continue reading


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