Not-so-permanent permafrost

Oct 29, 2012

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. 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 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 The previously unpublished nitrogen figure is useful for scientists who are making climate predictions with computer climate models, while the carbon estimate is consistent and gives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.

"This study quantifies the impact on Earth's two most important chemical cycles, carbon and nitrogen, from thawing of permafrost under future scenarios," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. "While the permafrost of the polar latitudes may seem distant and disconnected from the daily activities of most of us, its potential to alter the planet's habitability when destabilized is very real."

To generate the estimates, scientists studied how permafrost-affected soils, known as Gelisols, thaw under various climate scenarios. They found that all Gelisols are not alike: some Gelisols have soil materials that are very peaty, with lots of decaying that burns easily – these will impart newly thawed nitrogen into the ecosystem and atmosphere. Other Gelisols have materials that are very nutrient rich – these will impart a lot of into the ecosystem. All Gelisols will contribute carbon dioxide and likely some into the atmosphere as a result of decomposition once the permafrost thaws – and these gases will contribute to warming. What was frozen for thousands of years will enter our ecosystems and atmosphere as a new contributor.

"The scientific community researching this phenomena has made these international data available for the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As permafrost receives more attention, we are sharing our data and our insights to guide those models as they portray how the land, atmosphere, and ocean interact," said study lead Jennifer Harden, USGS Research Soil Scientist.

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More information: Geophysical Research Letters, VOL. 39, L15704, 6 PP., 2012 doi:10.1029/2012GL051958

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User comments : 15

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Tangent2
1.3 / 5 (13) Oct 29, 2012
Since when did Nitrogen, a gas that dominates our atmosphere volume at almost 80% of the atmosphere, get turned into a greenhouse gas all of a sudden? And where is the mention of Methane, which has been shown to be a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2? With organics in the permafrost, you can bet that there will be methane release, and this study did not even acknowledge it.

Watch out guys, Oxygen will be the next culprit "greenhouse gas".
zz5555
4.4 / 5 (7) Oct 29, 2012
Since when did Nitrogen, a gas that dominates our atmosphere volume at almost 80% of the atmosphere, get turned into a greenhouse gas all of a sudden? And where is the mention of Methane, which has been shown to be a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2?


I'm wondering why you couldn't even be bothered to read the article before commenting on it. I mean, it's only 5 paragraphs. You would have seen that nowhere in the article was nitrogen called a greenhouse gas (because, of course, it isn't one) and they did mention methane.
Maggnus
4 / 5 (8) Oct 29, 2012
Since when did Nitrogen, a gas that dominates our atmosphere volume at almost 80% of the atmosphere, get turned into a greenhouse gas all of a sudden? And where is the mention of Methane, which has been shown to be a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2? With organics in the permafrost, you can bet that there will be methane release, and this study did not even acknowledge it.

Watch out guys, Oxygen will be the next culprit "greenhouse gas".


Read the article again, slowly this time. Nitrogen is not being called a greenhouse gas. Methane is, but the difference between it and CO2 is that it is fairly quickly removed from the atmosphere. And they say there will be methane.
Sigh
5 / 5 (8) Oct 30, 2012
Since when did Nitrogen, a gas that dominates our atmosphere volume at almost 80% of the atmosphere, get turned into a greenhouse gas all of a sudden?

The carbon locked up in those soils is not all pure carbon, but much of it is carbon compounds. Likewise the nitrogen is not in the from of N2. That is a gas at permafrost temperatures and wouldn't stay in the soil. But when nitrogen compounds are metabolised, you can get other gases that contain nitrogen. Nitrous oxide, N2O, is a greenhouse gas.

If you are too keen to find fault, you risk jumping to conclusions.
Tangent2
1.7 / 5 (6) Oct 30, 2012
Read the article again, slowly this time. Nitrogen is not being called a greenhouse gas. Methane is, but the difference between it and CO2 is that it is fairly quickly removed from the atmosphere. And they say there will be methane.


"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."

It does not explicitly label it as a greenhouse gas, but definitely implicates it with the first line, which I am surprised to see that no one has mentioned or caught on to, since you are complaining that I didn't read the entire article.

So again I ask, since when does Nitrogen "exacerbate" the warming?
Maggnus
4 / 5 (4) Oct 30, 2012
So again I ask, since when does Nitrogen "exacerbate" the warming?


Well, ok now that you explain it that way, I guess I can see what you mean.

Nitrogen (N2) is not a greenhouse gas, however it can be metabolized into N2O and other oxides, which are. So, the answer then, is that nitrogen can "exagerbate" warming when it combines with various oxides.

Frankly, I think they mean the nitrogen will have a larger impact on water systems, but thats just my reading of the article.
MikPetter
5 / 5 (3) Nov 03, 2012
The atmosphere is 78% nitrogen gas N2. Nitrogen released from the permafrost can biologically converted to nitrous oxides. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful as greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide in the atmosphere can also cause acid rain.
VendicarD
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 03, 2012
When writing articles for a science site, the authors often presume that the audience knows something about science, and are not complete idiots.

"It does not explicitly label it as a greenhouse gas, but definitely implicates it with the first line" - Tangent2

You failed the test.

As to the emission of Oxygen being implicated in global warming, what do you think the "O" in CO2 stands for?

Obama?
VendicarD
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 03, 2012
When it is released in the form of Nitrogen Oxides, NO and NO2.

"So again I ask, since when does Nitrogen "exacerbate" the warming?" - Tangent2

http://www.ghgonl...rnox.htm

http://dwb.unl.ed...ogen.htm

http://www.grida....R-04.pdf

Educate yourself.
unknownorgin
1 / 5 (6) Nov 04, 2012
The story is that most of the CO2 in atmosphere is caused by those nasty humans with thier fires and cars running around so who is to blame for the 850,000,000,000 tons of carbon in the permafrost? Maybe T REX built campfires at night to keep warm. All these doomsdays global warming studies always leave out other possibilitys such as CO2 released from some source is reabsorbed by plants elesewhere so the net effect is zero. What qualifys the USGS to study the atmosphere other than to generate carbon tax propaganda.
VendicarD
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2012
Ignorance is as Republicans do.

"What qualifys the USGS to study the atmosphere other than to generate carbon tax propaganda." - UnknownTard
ka_
not rated yet Nov 04, 2012
You drop a bomb that weigh 1 ton, but the bomb cause a chain-reaction resulting in a 100 mega-ton explosion - are you responsible for causing 100 mega-ton or do only the 1 ton you dropped?

Same again - we release enough pollution to cause a 0.1 C increase in temperature that cause a chain reaction releasing the climate gases from the permafrost - are we responsible only for the 0.1 C or the final consequence of the chained reaction?

Sure - I agree with you that we cant blame every driver of a car on the road, but we CAN blame the local governments who do not act and enforce regulation to should prevent that chain reaction from happening. Such as requiring certain fuel-efficiency on cars, putting environmental taxes on gas, promote and provide alternatives to cars such as public transit systems, work-from-home programs and so on.

Welcome to the era of planned economy - the pure capitalistic was good while we had abundance of resources, however its time is long overdue.
zz5555
5 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2012
The story is that most of the CO2 in atmosphere is caused by those nasty humans with thier fires and cars running around


No, this is not "the story", but nice straw man. Climate science is very clear that most atmospheric CO2 is natural in origin and it's only the additional CO2 levels that are resulting from humans. If the case against climate change/global warming is so strong, why do you feel compelled to make up things like this?

All these doomsdays global warming studies always leave out other possibilitys such as CO2 released from some source is reabsorbed by plants elesewhere so the net effect is zero.


What makes you think this hasn't been looked at? This statement indicates that you really know little about climate science. You might consider reviewing the science in order to understand what you're commenting on first. I'd suggest http://skepticals...ere.html
Lex Talonis
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 06, 2012
When writing articles for a science site, the authors often presume that the audience knows something about science, and are not complete idiots.

"It does not explicitly label it as a greenhouse gas, but definitely implicates it with the first line" - Tangent2

You failed the test.

As to the emission of Oxygen being implicated in global warming, what do you think the "O" in CO2 stands for?

Obama?


And what about if your only a partial idiot?
NOM
not rated yet Nov 07, 2012
And what about if your only a partial idiot?

You don't have to worry about that one.