A team of researchers have now found that over 100 billion tonnes of locked in permafrost could be released into the atmosphere as temperatures start to rise over the course of the century. The release of carbon from the permafrost is expected to be gradual but not abrupt enough to be overwhelming.
This new assessment is now published in the journal Nature, and has provided probably the most comprehensive data to understand the connection between permafrost and climate change.
In general, permafrost is basically a layer of Arctic and sub-Arctic soil that is frozen, and covers around a quarter of the land mass of the northern hemisphere.
These findings also suggest that the thawing permafrost could play a key role in speeding up climate change, mostly due to the fact that the organic material frozen in the ground would become available for microbes to be broken down, thereby increasing the production of carbon-bearing gases.
The researchers speculate that worldwide, permafrost could account for around 1.4 trillion tons of carbon, which is twice the amount already present in the atmosphere. The release of so much carbon could undoubtedly prove to be catastrophic.
“What we can safely say is that is not going to happen,” the researchers say. “There will be an effect,” she added, “but it’s going to be more like a dial on the current system.”
The researchers also believe that the carbon originating from this permafrost could add to around 0.27 degree Celsius of warming in the atmosphere by the year 2100.
“This highlights the urgent need to think about human emissions and controlling those so that we don’t have additional emissions from places like the Arctic,” they added.