CU-Boulder study indicates thawing permafrost will likely accelerate global warming

February 11, 2011

Up to two-thirds of Earth’s permafrost likely will disappear within the next two hundred years because of warming temperature, unleashing vast quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere says a new study by CU-Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

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Feb. 11, 2011                                                                                            

Up to two-thirds of Earth’s permafrost likely will disappear within the next two hundred years because of warming temperature, unleashing vast quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere says a new study by CU-Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

CUT 1 “ Our main findings are that there’s going to be will be a lot of carbon released from permafrost in the future as it thaws out and it’s large enough that we should account for this in global strategies to reduce fossil fuel emissions.”

That is Kevin Schaefer, lead author of the study. Schaefer says the amount of carbon released will equal about a half of the green house gases put into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial age.

CUT 2 “We estimate that by 2200 around 190 gigatons of carbon will be emitted from thawing permafrost. And the release of this carbon will start sometime within the next 20 years. 190 gigatons is quite a bit of carbon.  It’s equivalent to roughly half of the total fossil fuel emissions since the dawn of the industrial age.”

The escaping carbon comes from plant material, primarily roots trapped and frozen in soil during the last glacial period that ended around 12,000 years ago.

CUT 3 “Permafrost is ground or rock that’s permanently frozen – that’s frozen all year around. It is essentially frozen dirt. If you go in your garden and take a handful of dirt, dark brown in color, half organic matter, that’s what permafrost looks like. “The organic matter that’s frozen is essentially plant roots and half decayed plant material.

Schaefer says people have know for decades that a lot of carbon was frozen in the permafrost but this is the first study to quantify how much carbon could be rele3ased. He says it would be wise to reassess strategies to reduce fossil fuel emissions or face a drastically warmer Earth then previously imagined.

CUT 4 ” Well certainly if you release this carbon from the permafrost into the atmosphere it’s going to accelerate the warming. We do not know at this time how much acceleration we are going to see. That’s a topic of future work.”

-CU-

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