66pc permafrost to melt by 2200, speed up global warming in coming years

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WASHINGTON - A new study has warned that global warming could cause up to two-thirds of the Earth’s permafrost to disappear by 2200, releasing carbon equal to half the emissions of the entire industrial age.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences found that the higher levels of carbon would impact not only the climate but also global strategies to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

“If we want to hit a target carbon dioxide concentration, then we have to reduce fossil fuel emissions that much lower than previously thought to account for this additional carbon from the permafrost,” said lead author Kevin Schaefer.

“Otherwise we will end up with a warmer Earth than we want,” he added.

The escaping carbon comes from plant material trapped and frozen in soil during the last glacial period that ended roughly 12,000 years ago, said Schaefer, who compared the process to storing broccoli in a freezer.

“As long as it stays frozen, it stays stable for many years. But if you take it out of the freezer it will thaw out and decay,” he said.

While other studies have shown carbon has begun to leak out of permafrost in Alaska and Siberia, the new study is the first to make actual estimates of future carbon release from permafrost.

Schaefer and his team ran multiple Arctic simulations assuming different rates of temperature increases to forecast how much carbon may be released globally from permafrost in the next two centuries.

They estimated a release of roughly 190 billion tons of carbon, most of it in the next 100 years. The team used Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios and land-surface models for the study.

The study took into account all of the permanently frozen ground at high latitudes around the globe.

Greater reductions in fossil fuel emissions to account for carbon released by the permafrost will be a daunting global challenge, said Schaefer.

“The problem is getting more and more difficult all the time. 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,” he said.

The study has been published online in the scientific journal Tellus. (ANI)

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