The frozen tundra could heat the Earth

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?

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