Arctic Permafrost May Belch Huge Emissions Of Methane In The Future

Holly Chavez

A NASA funded study has recently determined that a relatively little-known process called abrupt thawing may pose a serious threat to the planet. Making matters worse, it's a threat that may happen sooner than was previously believed.

Per NASA, the phenomenon of abrupt thawing and its associated dangers to the Earth were detailed in a study published in Nature Communications. The results of the NASA backed research were obtained by a part of NASA's Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE). ABoVE was a ten-year program that was formed to better understand the effects of climate change on the Arctic region of the Earth.

Also germane to the discussion is the fact that this region under the Arctic landscape contains a huge reserve of organic carbon that has, until recently, been safely contained by the frozen soil of the permafrost. However, a process begins in the event that the permafrost thaws out -- soil microbes located in the permafrost convert the carbon into carbon dioxide and methane. This byproduct then enters into the atmosphere and contributes to climate warming, researchers say.

Researchers remain concerned that this process could be damaging to Earth's atmosphere.

"The arctic permafrost's expected gradual thawing and the associated release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere may actually be sped up by instances of a relatively little known process called abrupt thawing. Abrupt thawing takes place under a certain type of Arctic lake, known as a thermokarst lake that forms as permafrost thaws."

The findings also suggest that -- even if we reduce global carbon emissions as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- large methane releases from the process of abrupt thawing are likely to occur. In a nutshell, whether we are successful at curbing global carbon emissions or continue business as usual, it won't make a difference.

Additionally, Walter Antony and a group of U.S. and German researchers used field measurements and computer models to determine "that abrupt thawing more than doubles previous estimates of permafrost-derived greenhouse warming."