A new study from the University of Colorado suggests that 66% of Earth’s permafrost could disappear by the year 2200. And this could be really bad for Earth’s temperature.
If the temperature increases, the permafrost melts. Simple enough, right? But it’s slightly more complicated. Trapped in the permafrost is lots and lots of carbon–in the form of plant material trapped in the frozen soil.
When it’s frozen, bacteria and fungi don’t break it down quickly. But when it’s thawed out, the plant material quickly decays. As soil bacteria and fungi break down the organic matter, they release tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This leads to higher temperatures and more thawing permafrost.
“The amount we expect to be released by permafrost is equivalent to half of the amount of carbon released since the dawn of the Industrial Age,” said Kevin Schaefer, lead author on the study.
Greater reductions in fossil fuel emissions to account for carbon released by the permafrost will be a daunting global challenge, Schaefer said. “The problem is getting more and more difficult all the time,” he said. “It is hard enough to reduce the emissions in any case, but now we have to reduce emissions even more. We think it is important to get that message out now.”
Explore the relationship between temperature and greenhouse gases in our activity, “What will Earth’s climate be in the future?“
A new study from the University of Washington suggests that Earth’s temperature will keep increasing, even if all greenhouse gas emissions were stopped right now.
Why? Because greenhouse gases will last longer in the atmosphere than particulate matter (aerosols) that reflect the sun’s light. So, the solar radiation coming in will increase and the heat energy will be reflected by the greenhouse gases. (Explore the relationship between temperature, greenhouse gases, and albedo in our activity, “What will Earth’s climate be in the future?
How much would the temperature rise if we were able to cut all greenhouse gas emissions right now? In the best case scenario, global temperature will actually decline. In the worst case scenario, the global temperature would rise by 3.5°F.
Why the big disparity? Scientists don’t really know the overall effect of the aerosols, particles as disparate as soot from burning fossil fuels and sea salt. But this doesn’t mean that their predictions are worthless:
“… uncertainties do not lessen the importance of the findings, he said. The scientists are confident, from the results of equations they used, that some warming would have to occur even if all emissions stopped now. But there are more uncertainties, and thus a lower confidence level, associated with larger temperature increases.”
Ending all greenhouse gas emissions immediately is not a realistic option. So Earth’s temperature will likely increase further. How much? Scientists are still tweaking the models to determine that.