Scientists discuss permafrost, greenhouse gasses

By Victoria Elleby 

Sun Star Reporter

04/21/2015

The emission of carbon and methane from permafrost in arctic and sub-arctic regions like Alaska is predicted to be slower than previously researched.

The Permafrost Carbon Network is part of a multi-million dollar project that’s part of the study of the Environmental Arctic Change Project, headed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The network is made up internationally of over 200 members, 17 of which came together in 2011 to answer the questions of how much permafrost carbon is out there, what are the ways it is released into the atmosphere and what is the impact the emission has on global warming over time.

A. David McGuire, right, and Tom Sinclair, left, in Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge, 2012. Photo courtesy of A.D. McGuire/UAF-IAB-AKCFWRU.

A. David McGuire, right, and Tom Sinclair, left, in Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge, 2012. Photo courtesy of A.D. McGuire/UAF-IAB-AKCFWRU.

The group included UAF scientists, A. David McGuire, U.S. Geological Survey senior scientist and climate modeling expert with the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology, and Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost expert with the UAF Geophysical Institute.

The published scientific synthesis paper released on April 9 in the “Journal of Nature” describes their methods of synthesizing previous research to provide a new study on a slower emission process that disproves previous studies describing the emission like a bomb.

Permafrost is soil at or below the freezing point of water that stays frozen. It is being un-thawed by global warming, releasing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Permafrost soil contains double the carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere and methane is 22 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, according to NASA’s greenhouse gas tracking database.

The arctic and sub-arctic permafrost emission is being discussed more as global warming causes more thawing of the soil. “The published research on permafrost carbon has been increasing exponentially in the last 20 years, so there is a lot of new information emerging,” said McGuire, co-author of the UAF research publication.

According to the scientist’s synthesis, “Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback,” permafrost has warmed nearly 11 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 30 years, heating up to just over 28 degrees. In regions of high latitudes the temperature had risen 1.1 degrees per decade during the same time period.

The Permafrost Carbon Network’s research combines previous research with evidence that the permafrost process may be more prolonged and not accelerate climate warming as much as previous research argues. “We needed to base our review on only published information, even if we are aware of papers that might be published in a year or two,” McGuire said.

The research on permafrost will help mitigate the effects it may have in the future on arctic and sub-arctic regions. In their published synthesis, scientists say the prolonged warming will give society time to adapt to environmental changes.

“We are going to continue to address areas of uncertainties we weren’t able to address,” McGuire said. “For example the effects of subsea permafrost.”

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