Thawing permafrost may speed up global warming

Feb 16, 2011 12:00 AM

Global warming could cause up to 60 % of the world's permafrost to thaw by 2200 and release bigger amounts of carbon into the atmosphere that would further speed up climate change, a study released recently warned. Using projections based on UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios, scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Colorado estimated that if global warming continues even at a moderate pace, a 1/3 of the earth's permafrost will be gone by 2200.

If the planet warms at a faster pace, the world could see 59 % of the permanently frozen underground layer of earth thaw out; as that happens, organic matter that has been trapped in the permafrost for tens of millennia will begin to decay, releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

The NSIDC scientists then used a model to predict how much carbon the thawing permafrost would release and came up with the staggering figure of 190 gigatons by 2200.
“That's the equivalent of half the amount of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age. That's a lot of carbon,” NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer, the lead author of the study, told.
A gigaton is 1 bn tons, so 190 gigatons is the equivalent of around 1 bn tons of carbon entering the atmosphere each year between now and 2200. Schaefer said carbon that would be released from melting permafrost has to be accounted for in global warming strategies.
“If we don't account for the release of carbon from permafrost, we'll overshoot the C02 concentration we are aiming for and will end up with a warmer climate than we want,” .

But all was not doom and gloom.
“If we start cutting emissions now, we will slow down the thaw rate and push the start of this carbon release off into the future,”. In a study published in 2009, University of Florida ecology professor Ted Schuur used a different method to study the effect of thawing permafrost on atmospheric carbon and arrived at the same annual figure for carbon entering the atmosphere as Schaefer and his co-authors.
Some argue that the loss of permafrost would not present a significant threat to the planet, as plants would start to grow on the warmer earth and suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, thus blunting the problem.
But Schuur said in his study 2 years ago that protection from plant growth “doesn't last, because there is so much carbon in the permafrost that eventually the plants can't keep up.”
Schaefer insisted that a major preventive effort, starting now, could stave off the worst-case scenario of rapidly melting permafrost releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and further accelerating global warming and permafrost melting.

Market Research

The International Affairs Institute (IAI) and OCP Policy Center recently launched a new book: The Future of Natural Gas. Markets and Geopolitics.

Cover_242-width

The book is an in-depth analysis of some of the fastest moving gas markets, attempting to define the trends of a resource that will have a decisive role in shaping the global economy and modelling the geopolitical dynamics in the next decades.

Some of the top scholars in the energy sector have contributed to this volume such as Gonzalo Escribano, Director Energy and Climate Change Programme, Elcano Royal Institute, Madrid, Coby van der Linde, Director Clingendael International Energy Programme, The Hague and Houda Ben Jannet Allal, General Director Observatoire Méditerranéen de l’Energie (OME), Paris.

For only €32.50 you have your own copy of The Future of Natural Gas. Markets and Geopolitics. Click here to order now!


 

Upcoming Conferences
« August 2017 »
August
MoTuWeThFrSaSu
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31

Register to announce Your Event

View All Events