FAIRBANKS — University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher Vladimir Romanovsky is one of the authors of a new United Nations report on the climate change ramifications of warming permafrost.
Romanovsky, a permafrost researcher at UAF’s Geophysical Institute, worked with three other scientists to create the report, “Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost.” The report highlights the potential problems posed by the release of carbon dioxide and methane from warming permafrost, which aren’t currently included in climate prediction modeling.
Most scientists believe the release of such greenhouse gases is at least partly responsible for global warming.
The report states that permafrost covers nearly a quarter of the northern hemisphere, containing 1,700 billion tons of carbon — twice the amount that is now in the atmosphere and more than all the carbon emitted
by human activity since the Industrial Revolution. If those gases are released as permafrost thaws, it could amplify global warming, the report argues.
Thawing permafrost causes previously frozen organic material to decompose, which releases gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Permafrost also can form a cap above stores of underground methane, allowing its release once it melts.
Scientists recently have begun boosting their estimates for the rate at which greenhouse gases will be released from thawing permafrost.
Last December, the science journal Nature surveyed 41 scientists — including seven UAF researchers, among them Romanovsky — to provide estimates for the release of carbon from permafrost. They concluded that the amount of greenhouse gases released by thawing would be 1.7 to 5.2 times higher than previously thought.
The higher figures come about because of an ongoing re-evaluation of the carbon stored in permafrost. In most soils, such material typically is in the top several feet, but in frozen soils, those carbon-filled sediments can be much deeper. Because of that, the estimated amount of carbon stored in northern soils has tripled in recent years.
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