Thawing Permafrost Could Release 850 Billion Tons of Carbon

Thawing Permafrost Could Release 850 Billion Tons of Carbon

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As much as 44 billion tons of nitrogen and 850 billion tons of carbon stored in arctic permafrost, or frozen ground, could be released into the environment as the region begins to thaw over the next century as a result of a warmer planet, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey and published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. This nitrogen and carbon are likely to impact ecosystems, the atmosphere, and water resources including rivers and lakes. For context, this is roughly the amount of carbon stored in the atmosphere today.

The release of carbon and nitrogen in permafrost could exacerbate the warming phenomenon and will impact water systems on land and offshore according to USGS scientists and their domestic and international collaborators. The previously unpublished nitrogen figure is useful for scientists who are making climate predictions with computer climate models, while the carbon estimate is consistent and gives more credence to other scientific studies with similar carbon estimates.

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