What does the future hold for snow and permafrost in the Arctic and why do we care? is the apt title of a brief but comprehensive and up-to-date 2011 research presentation for AMAP, by M. Johansson and T. Callhaghan.
Permafrost is permanently frozen ground. By far the majority of the world's permafrost makes up northern Siberia. The deepest permafrost in the world is called 'loess' in Siberia
(Strictly speaking, there is sea floor permafrost on the Arctic continental shelves, which were once above water with vegetated soil. This underwater permafrost is important for methane hydrate stability. But the term "permafrost" generally refers to terrestrial frozen ground.)
The International Permafrost Association is a good resource with great images and maps.
An international group of 41 researchers with the Permafrost Carbon Research Network publishing Climate Change: High Risk of Permafrost Thaw (Nature, December 2011) estimates that carbon from thawing permafrost will be released at a much faster rate than previously estimated — by 2100, 1.7 to 5.2 times larger than reported previously. Permafrost thaw will release approximately the same amount of carbon as deforestation, but the effect on climate will be 2.5 times bigger because emissions include methane. The scientists calculate that more than 300 billion metric tons of carbon will emit from the thawing earth from now until 2100, adding in that gas means that warming would happen "20 to 30 percent faster than from fossil fuel emissions alone," said Edward Schuur of the University of Florida.
It could be even worse because missing from all the models are processes such as the effects of abrupt thawing that can melt an ice wedge, result in collapsed ground, and accelerate additional thawing. Researchers Edward A. G. Schuur (University of Florida), Benjamin Abbott (University of Alaska,) and other experts from the Permafrost Carbon Network warned that carbon from thawing permafrost in the Arctic “will be released more quickly than models suggest, and at levels that are cause for serious concern.”
Bioscience in 2008 published a review of the vulnerability of permafrost carbon to climate change by the world's top experts, which confirmed that "thawing permafrost will have a positive effect on the carbon cycle." It will be a net source of more carbon emissions.
A 2011 paper found the same Permafrost carbon-climate feedbacks accelerate global warming Charles Kovena
In 2008 David Lawrence estimated that Arctic sea ice loss would increase land warming by a factor of 3.5 and the accelerated warming penetrates up to 1500 kilometres inland, present throughout most of the year, peaking in autumn. The permafrost warming accelerates over time, penetrating deeper.
A 2008 Russian study reported that East Siberia's permafrost contains about 500 Gigatons (1100 trillion pounds) of frozen carbon deposits that are highly susceptible to global warming. Thawing could become irreversible, eventually transforming 74 percent of the initial carbon stock into carbon dioxide and methane.
Arctic carbon that has been there since the Pleistocene era is bubbling up to the surface of Siberian thaw lakes and into the atmosphere as methane, in much greater amounts than had been considered — increasing estimates of such emissions 58% (Walter and Zimov, 2006).
In 2009, it was found that permafrost holds double the carbon that had been estimated, which is double the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, mostly as potential methane as it thaws, creating a wet environment. (If permafrost is dry when it thaws, it emits CO2.)
Also recently found is that cryoturbation of thawing permafrost emits a burst of extra methane when it refreezes and also a large amount of nitrous oxide.
How much and how fast will permafrost thaw and how much carbon will thawing permafrost release to the atmosphere?
Global Warming Forecasts website for Permafrost provide a good introduction.
Key to this question is that today we are absolutely committed to a global temperature increase of more than 2.4ºC (Ramanathan and Feng, 2008).
The 2013 field research by A Vaks puts all previous permafrost thaw estimates outdated huge underestimates.
The Arctic terrestrial carbon feedback chapter from the WWF Arctic feedback report covers this topic well.
With research published in 2008, the inventory of Arctic permafrost doubled to more than 1500 billion tonnes – mainly because previous estimates had not included the depth of the deepest permafrost in Siberia. This is more than double atmospheric carbon.
Permafrost switches from a carbon sink to a carbon source
Permafrost carbon-climate feedbacks accelerate global warming was published in 2011 by Koven et al. Contrary to model results for the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4), when permafrost processes are included, terrestrial ecosystems north of 60°N shift from being a sink to a source of carbon by the end of the 21st century when forced by a high emissions IPCC scenario. Methane emissions double. The authors say this is an underestimate, and that additional warming is heat generated by the microbial formation of the carbon emissions.
Another 2011 paper, Amount and timing of permafrost carbon release in response to climate warming by K. Schaefer and colleagues found that the thawing of permafrost "will change the arctic from a carbon sink to a source after the mid-2020s and is strong enough to cancel 42–88% of the total global land sink. The thaw and decay of permafrost carbon is irreversible."
Thawing of permafrost will change the arctic from a carbon sink to a source after the mid-2020s and is strong enough to cancel 42–88% of the total global land sink. The thaw and decay of permafrost carbon is irreversible.
Thawing of permafrost will release about half the amount of all carbon emitted since fossil fuel industrialization. (Amount and timing of permafrost carbon release in
A 2007 paper Potential feedback of thawing permafrost to the global climate system through methane emission by O A Anisimov of the State Hydrological Institute, St Petersburg, Russia, is already out of date on amount of permafrost, Arctic warming, and does not account for rapid summer sea ice loss. But it does provide good information of the vulnerability of permafrost and wetlands to warming as a source of methane carbon feedback.
30 August 2012 . Arctic collapse dramatically increases global warming. Parts of Arctic Siberia are releasing ten times more Carbon than thought.
'...the scale of the release of both CO2 and methane into the atmosphere will have a huge effect. This will have consequences for the temperatures all over the world.'
2012 Chinese Academy Sciences.
UNEP Dec 2012 The IPCC is omitting additional warming from permafrost thawing carbon feedback
Sept 2012 Thawing permafrost will add up to another 0.8C by 2100.
The paper found that even if emissions dropped to zero at 2013 permafrost thaw continues to cause a self sustaining carbon feedback.
Surface exposure to sunlight stimulates CO2 release from permafrost soil carbon in the Arctic PNAS Feb 2013
The research report shows that exposure of previuously frozen ground amplifies the release of carbon by at least 40% - a feedback amplifying global warming. King said “That means permafrost carbon is potentially a huge factor that will help determine how fast the Earth warms.”
2005 Nature research by Katey Walter found a lot of methane is being emitted from thawing permafrost Siberian lakes, Extrapolation of these fluxes indicates that thaw lakes in North Siberia emit 3.8 teragrams of methane per year, which increases present estimates of methane emissions from northern wetlands (< 6–40 teragrams per year; refs 1, 2, 4–6) by between 10 and 63 per cent. We find that thawing permafrost along lake margins accounts for most of the methane released from the lakes, and estimate that an expansion of thaw lakes between 1974 and 2000, which was concurrent with regional warming, increased methane emissions in our study region by 58 per cent. Furthermore, the Pleistocene age (35,260–42,900 years) of methane emitted from hotspots along thawing lake margins indicates that this positive feedback to climate warming has led to the release of old carbon stocks previously stored in permafrost.
Feb 2013 Research Rate of permafrost thaw much more sensitive to warming.
' ... global climates only slightly warmer than today are sufficient to thaw
extensive regions of permafrost.' Tipping point 1.5C. Media comment by the author
A Vaks "I would expect to see continuous permafrost start to thaw along the
boundaries at this threshold of 1.5C . "This indicates that 1.5C appears to be something of a tipping point," This would be a tipping point because because thawing permafrost generates its own heat making a continued thaw irreversible. As we are committed to a warming above 2C without drastic emergency intervention, this is proof of the Arctic warming planetary emergency. A. Vaks video of the research.
It's really amazing. Permafrost emits carbon as it thaws because the frozen soil is full of frozen microbes that come to life and digest the thawed organic matter. As they do they respire carbon that emits as methane or CO2. Research in Canada 2007 found evidence of living microbes in permafrost over half a million years old. As permafrost is wet as it thaws most of the carbon emits as methane. In the Northern Hemisphere, 24% of the ice-free land area, equivalent to 19 million square kilometer, contains by permafrost. Most of this area is found in Siberia, Canada, Alaska and Greenland.
Arctic carbon feeback could add over 200ppm of CO2 by 2100. - another 1C warming.
10 June 2019 Climate change drives widespread and rapid thermokarst development in very cold permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic
30 April 2019 Permafrost collapse is accelerating carbon release.
23 April 2019 Climate policy implications of nonlinear decline of Arctic land permafrost
24 Aug 2018 Biogenic volatile release from permafrost thaw (multiple VOCs)
19 July 2017 Strong methane emissions Canada permafrost
Significant ontribution to climate warming from the permafrost carbon feedback A MacDougall 2012 (irrespective of scenario)
Dec 2011 Climate Change: High Risk of Permafrost Thaw
2011 Hot spots for nitrous oxide emissions found in different types of permafrost peatlands-very high emissions from peat mounds.
2010 High nitrous oxide production from thawing permafrost- as high as from high fertilized agricultural soils.
IPCC AR5 estimates that an enormous amount of carbon could be emitted from thawing permafrost by 2100. the total quantity of newly-thawed soil C by 2100 will be 246 Pg for RCP4.5 (2.4C) and 436 Pg for RCP8.5 (4.3C) (AR5 T 188.8.131.52).That would would add another 1.5C warming by 2100. (1 Pg = 1 petagram = 1 billionmetric tonnes). Post industrial CO2 emissions are at least 250 Pg..
350 PgC by 2100
+1.5C by 2100
30 April 2015 Ancient microbes have started an Arctic permafrost runaway process. Microbes coming to life when permafrost thaws are digesting and releasing all the carbon to the atmosphere as fast as it thaws. This therefore will continue as long as the permafrost thaws releasing more and more carbon to the atmosphere. This is an Arctic amplifying carbon feedback future runaway situation, that must be prevented - and can only be stopped by cooling the Arctic.
2017 Woods Hole Permafrost and Global Climate Change Woods Hole Research Center. POLICY BRIEF. '...emissions from permafrost could lead to out-of-control global warming ... the oft-cited 2-degree target would be too lenient.... the potential exists for a catastrophic, self-reinforcing cycle of warming and thawing permafrost.
21 Dec 2015 Research shock: permafrost active layer emits a lot of methane during the long Arctic winter
Research has determined that thawing permafrost is emitting all 3 main GHgs- methane, CO2 and nitrous oxide.
Climate Change: High Risk of Permafrost Thaw 2011 234-380
billion tonnes by 2100 and 549-865 billion tonnes over the next several centuries.