Study: Permafrost Releasing More Carbon Than Plants Can Use

This image taken from a helicopter in the High Arctic shows cracks in the permafrost. (Brocken Inaglory/Wikipedia)

(CN) – While scientists have already warned about the rapid thawing of permafrost in the Arctic and its release of harmful greenhouse gases, a study published Monday shows that the amount of carbon dioxide released in the air is quickly outpacing the amount Arctic plants take in during their growing season.

The new study, published in the journal Nature and conducted by a multinational team of researchers, posits that if the global temperature continues to rise at the same level it currently does, winter carbon dioxide emissions from the Arctic will increase 17% by the year 2100.

In terms of scale, scientists believe that every 1 degree Celsius rise in Earth’s temperature causes permafrost to release the equivalent of four to six years’ worth of oil, coal and other manmade emissions in just one year.

Using process models, the study estimates the Arctic is currently losing 1,662 teragrams of carbon per year from permafrost during winter. Meanwhile, the average growing season carbon uptake is estimated at -1,032 teragrams.

While plants use carbon dioxide and convert it to oxygen, the rising global temperatures makes it impossible for them to use the increased amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere.

In a study released in June, an expedition team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks discovered that permafrost in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than scientists had predicted.

“What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir Romanovsky, a geophysics professor at the university, said in an interview with Reuters. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.”

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