Super-size deposits of frozen carbon threat to climate change

June 30, 2009

The vast amount of carbon stored in the arctic and boreal regions of the world is more than double that previously estimated, according to a study published this week.

The amount of carbon in frozen soils, sediments and river deltas (permafrost) raises new concerns over the role of the northern regions as future sources of greenhouse gases.

"We now estimate the deposits contain over 1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere", said Dr. Charles Tarnocai, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, and lead author.

Dr. Pep Canadell, Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project at CSIRO, Australia, and co-author of the study says that the existence of these super-sized deposits of frozen carbon means that any thawing of permafrost due to global warming may lead to significant emissions of the greenhouse gases and .

Carbon deposits frozen thousands of years ago can easily break down when permafrost thaws releasing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, according to another recent study by some of the same authors.

"Radioactive carbon dating shows that most of the carbon dioxide currently emitted by thawing soils in Alaska was formed and frozen thousands of years ago. The carbon dating demonstrates how easily carbon decomposes when soils thaw under warmer conditions," said Professor Ted Schuur, University of Florida and co-author of the paper.

The authors point out the large uncertainties surrounding the extent to which permafrost carbon thawing could further accelerate climate change.

"Permafrost carbon is a bit of a wildcard in the efforts to predict future climate change," said Dr Canadell. "All evidence to date shows that carbon in permafrost is likely to play a significant role in the 21st century climate given the large carbon deposits, the readiness of its organic matter to release greenhouse gases when thawed, and the fact that high latitudes will experience the largest increase in air temperature of all regions."

Carbon in permafrost is found largely in northern regions including Canada, Greenland, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Scandinavia and USA.

The carbon assessment is published this week in the journal of "Global Biogeochemical Cycles" of the American Geophysical Union, and the radiocarbon study was recently published in the journal of Nature.

Source: Global Carbon Project

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1.8 / 5 (10) Jun 30, 2009
I wonder if there is still someone that thinks that human induced CO2 increase has no relevance in the future and that we may continue polluting as we have done so far?

On the other hand it seems that it's not a question if that permafrost factor will be played out or not. It's just a question of when it will play out.

Our only hope could be to find a way to begin lowering the CO2 in air in very near future, preferably today.
1.5 / 5 (8) Jul 01, 2009
I wonder if there is still someone that thinks that human induced CO2 increase has no relevance in the future and that we may continue polluting as we have done so far?

In every corner of the internet, there's always a handful of big oil fundamentalists preaching the gospel of global warming denial.

3.9 / 5 (7) Jul 01, 2009
Man made global warming is the biggest scam science has ever seen.
4 / 5 (4) Jul 01, 2009
. . . and the band plays on.
2 / 5 (4) Jul 02, 2009
I wonder if there is still someone that thinks that human induced CO2 increase has no relevance in the future

3 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2009
IMHO, AGW is a scam only to those who think they will be affected detrimentally by draconian government regulations. If no one was proposing any limitations, I bet it wouldn't matter to most of the deniers because they seem to be of the same mind set as those who think "the oceans are too large for any pollution we dump into them to affect anything". Lack of personal responsibility and sheer arrogance play a very large role in these problems.
3 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2009
I wonder if there is still someone that thinks that human induced CO2 increase has no relevance in the future and that we may continue polluting as we have done so far?

Unfortunately we can only guess about the extent to which our CO2 emissions impact the climate.

Science cannot answer this question as we don't have experimentally verified climate models. We do have some models but to know if they are worth anything we have to first compare their predictions with reality on numerous occasions. In Science wrong models outnumber correct ones by a very large margin so untested models simply cannot be relied upon. Unfortunately due to timescale of climate changes it will take a long time before we have reliable climate models but there is little we can do about it.
not rated yet Jul 07, 2009
AGW deniers need to keep their eye on the most recent science to have valid points to make. The models we have in fact do predict vast changes, unfortunately they are mostly wrong because the actual changes we are seeing in the world exceed model change predictions. This is quite troubling to me. Furthermore, the signal to noise ratio is steadily climbing. A decade ago, a few scientists were reporting unusual events possibly or potentially associated with a warming climate. In addition, satellite data seemed at variance with GW predictions. At that time, a healthy skepticism might have been justified.

However, more recent observations from thousands of sites with very statistically significant data combined with newer satellite information shows an enormous signal to noise ratio that is increasing with time.

It is a fact that we can never absolutely prove that increasing carbon dioxide levels are causing this unprecedented warming. All we can ever do is eliminate as possible contributors natural phenomenon like the sun increasing its output, orbital fluctuations, etc.

But the point is, at what point do you start admitting to the 99.9% explanation or cling to the .1% idea? Nearly all scientists have already been convinced. The only real deniers at this point are politicians and bloggers that haven't done any investigations on their own. I have looked at the data and I am getting very scared for my children. And my grandchildren.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2009
This is great news, now we know where much of the CO2 was sequestered from the era when earth was a greenhouse paradise. We should look forward to higher concentrations of CO2, less ice and snow, larger arable regions, and greater crop yields. Just the thing the worlds needs to feed its burgeoning masses.

The seas should return to historic levels, but unfortunately mankind built his cities during a low point of the climate cycle, and will likely need to move inland a bit.

I guess it's all in the attitude, "global warming" really shouldn't be presented as a hysterical emergency when it's simply the planet following the same patterns its followed for eons. Do we really have any sensible justification for panic? Does it make any sense for us to fear it?

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