A glacier on Bylot Island, Canada. Melting permafrosts such as these threaten to release billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change, a new USGS study has warned. Corbis

By Damien Gayle
26 November 2012

As much as 44 billion tons of nitrogen and 850 billion tons of carbon could be released into the environment as permafrost thaws over the next century, U.S. government experts warn.

The release of carbon and nitrogen in permafrost could make global warming much worse and threaten delicate water systems on land and offshore, according to scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey.

It comes after the UN last week warned of record levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere are likely to be trapped for centuries with far-reaching impacts for all life, it was warned.

But the latest figure suggests levels of carbon could double in 100 years, meaning that the increase in global temperatures will be likely to accelerate.

The previously unpublished nitrogen figure is useful for scientists making predictions with computer climate models, the researchers say, while the carbon estimate adds credence to other studies with similar findings.

“This study quantifies the impact on Earth's two most important chemical cycles, carbon and nitrogen, from thawing of permafrost under future climate warming scenarios,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt.

“While the permafrost of the polar latitudes may seem distant and disconnected from the daily activities of most of us, its potential to alter the planet’s habitability when destabilised is very real.”

To generate the estimates, scientists studied how permafrost-affected soils, known as Gelisols, thaw under various climate scenarios, reporting their findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

They found that all Gelisols are not alike. Some have soil materials that are very peaty, with lots of decaying organic matter that burns easily – these will impart newly thawed nitrogen into the ecosystem and atmosphere.

Other Gelisols have materials that are very nutrient rich – these will release a lot of nitrogen into ecosystems.

However, all Gelisols will contribute carbon dioxide and likely some methane into the atmosphere as a result of decomposition once the permafrost thaws – and these gases will contribute to global warming. […]

Melting permafrost 'will DOUBLE carbon and nitrogen levels in the atmosphere': Experts issue chilling new climate change warning via Apocadocs


  1. Anonymous said...

    This article like many, does not actually lay it out as it really is.

    Try this one: Where Even The Earth Is Melting

    Read my link carefully, it’s basically saying the tipping point IS reached, melt / methane is considerably higher then expected and has the potential to change the global climate significantly. — [Admin]

    “I think it’s fair to say that until recently climate scientists underrated the rate at which permafrost melt could release methane. I think we’ve been shown to be over-conservative. It’s happening faster than we had thought … This is not good news.”

    The evidence that major change is already happening is trickling in not just from the NASA measurements, but from ground-based tests.

    “There is compelling evidence, not just that permafrost will thaw, but that it is already rapidly thawing,” said Ben Abbott, a researcher at the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

    ~Survival Acres~  


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