As permafrost melts, prehistoric ooze could speed up global warming
Scientists warn that if exposed, microbes in organic matter could emit mass quantities of greenhouse gases into the air.
Tue, Jul 07, 2009 at 05:13 PM
Under the permafrost in the Arctic tundra, there lies massive amounts of ‘prehistoric ooze’ made up of thousands of years of animal waste and organic matter. That ooze contains greenhouse gases that could lead to a significant increase in global temperatures by the end of this century.
Researchers say the amount of carbon stored in frozen soils in the Arctic is actually double previous estimates. As rising temperatures cause the tundra to melt, carbon dioxide and methane will be released into the atmosphere.
“The research shows that the amount of carbon stored in soils surrounding the North Pole has been hugely underestimated,” says Dr. Pep Candell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).
“Using the new carbon pool estimates from this research, permafrost degradation could account for the entire upper range of carbon-climate feedbacks currently estimated by climate models.”
Russian scientist Sergei Zimov explains that microbes that have been dormant under the permafrost for thousands of years will become active once again and emit carbon dioxide and methane gases as a byproduct in huge quantities.
"The deposits of organic matter in these soils are so gigantic that they dwarf global oil reserves," says Zimov. "Permafrost areas hold 500 billion tons of carbon, which can fast turn into greenhouse gases. If you don't stop emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere ... the Kyoto Protocol will seem like childish prattle."