Scientists have reported that approximately half of all the permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere will likely disappear by the mid-century. And not only this, but it seems that areas covered by tundra are warming at a more rapid pace than other parts of the world as well.
The consequences are predicted to be disastrous since the melting ice will release an estimated 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide and methane per year into the atmosphere, over the course of the next century. This value is about the same as the current annual emissions from fossil-fuel burning in the United States.
Permafrost is a thick coating of soil, rock or sediment that stays frozen for more than two consecutive years. In the Northern Hemisphere, 24% of land surface is covered in permafrost.
Scientists also suggest that permafrost serves as a storage room for about twice the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. So when the ice starts melting, The microbes convert the carbon into carbon dioxide and methane, which could result in an extra 1°C of warming.
Senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, Max Holmes, along with his colleagues, visited the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. This was where they embedded temperature probes into the frozen ground and collected samples of permafrost cores, sediment, and water to analyze the carbon content and nutrients.
Image Source: www.commondreams.org
They found that 3 feet below the surface level, temperatures were less than half a degree below freezing, implying that we could likely lose much of the permafrost by the middle of the century.
According to Holmes, “[That] has all kinds of consequences both locally for this region, for the animals and the people who live here, as well as globally. It’s sobering to think of this magnificent landscape and how fundamentally it can change over a relatively short time period.”
Although it will take about a thousand years for the permafrost to melt completely, scientists don’t actually know when, or even how much of Alaska’s ice will melt since it isn’t as stable as first thought.
Holmes also adds that plenty of carbon is locked in the ground that has built up over the millennia and that, “It’s been in a freezer, and that freezer is now turning into a refrigerator.”