Experts state that worldwide emissions need to be cut in order to limit the release of powerful greenhouse gases from the thawing permafrost which is transforming the carbon sink of the Arctic into a giant source of greenhouse gases.
Scientists are increasingly warning that the melting Arctic could cause the planet to plunge into a vicious cycle of uncontrolled heating, as large amounts of carbon in the thawing ground release powerful greenhouse gases.
Double the amount of carbon currently in our atmosphere
For millennia, permafrost- which is ground frozen for a minimum of 2 years, has kept dead animal and plant matter locked in the deep freeze beneath the tundra. It is estimated that these ancient remnants are 1,600 billion tonnes of organic carbon, which is twice the amount currently found in the earth’s atmosphere.
Covering about 25% of the Northern Hemisphere, the frozen vault is defrosting due to rising temperatures, unprecedented heatwaves and extensive wildfires in Siberia and other far-northern regions. This is in turn rapidly transforming the Arctic carbon sink into a source of greenhouse gases.
Amongst the gases present is methane, which is a gas 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Over a course of 20 years, it becomes 86 times more potent. Nitrous Oxide, another gas found, has a warming potential of about 300 times more than CO2 over a 100-year time frame.
This creates a dangerous feedback loop which sees human activities such as farming livestock and burning fossil fuels heat up the earth’s atmosphere, which in turn causes the permafrost to defrost and release more greenhouse gases.
This could cause further heating, further emissions, and further thawing, which could threaten to bring about the worst aspects of climate change far quicker than previously expected.
“This is likely to accelerate because of the scale of the warming we’re seeing in the Arctic,” stated Rachael Treharne, an Arctic ecologist at Woodwell Climate Research Centre, who studies the impact of thawing permafrost and wildfires on climate change.
“Already, we’re looking at irreversible changes.”
The warmings come ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, which is seen by many as perhaps the last opportunity to avert a worldwide environmental catastrophe.
The plans to lower carbon emissions could be created at the conference, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland from the 31st of October to the 12th of November.
The Arctic has already heated over 2 degrees Celsius over its pre-industrial average, and temperatures are expected to rise in the future. The northern latitudes are heating up at over twice the rate of the global average. This is due to rapid sea ice loss, replacing a highly reflective white surface with the sea’s highly absorbing blue-black.
Scientists state that higher temperatures conducive to permafrost thawing are occurring approximately 70 years ahead of projections. Permafrost’s polluting potential begins when the damper, warmer conditions of thawing ground jumpstart microbes to produce carbon dioxide or methane as they feast on decomposing organic matter in boggy, once-hard soil.
The problem is compounded by thawing bedrock. As temperatures rise and pressures change, frozen deposits of naturally occurring methane and many other hydrocarbons inside the permafrost are transformed into gas, which can then be released via cracks into the earth’s atmosphere.
“We can more or less control the burning of fossil fuels through political decisions and economic regulations,” said Dmitry Zastrozhnov, a lecturer and geologist at the Institute of Earth Sciences at St Petersburg State University who is studying the release of methane from Siberian limestone areas.
“But we cannot ask permafrost to stop releasing methane. We cannot control nature”.
Scientists have detected the accelerated release of potent greenhouse gases in the Arctic Ocean off northern Russia’s Siberian Coast.
As initially reported by AL JAZEERA