Abrupt Thaw Of Permafrost Beneath Arctic Lakes Could Fuel Climate Change

Posted: Aug 17 2018, 1:38pm CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Abrupt Thawing of Permafrost Beneath Arctic Lakes could Fuel Climate Change
Credit: Clayton Elder

Researchers found that the release of greenhouse gases beneath thermokarst lakes is relatively rapid.

Methane has a significant influence on global warming. It is a potent greenhouse gas that is almost 30 times more harmful to the climate than another major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The biggest concern is the rapid rise in methane levels in the atmosphere.

Billions of tons of methane are trapped inside the world’s permafrost. When permafrost or the centuries-old frozen ground thaws and warms, it releases methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Permafrost is already thawing in some parts such as lakes beneath the Arctic. If that trend accelerates, it would unleash runaway global warming, leading to extreme heat and record-high temperatures.

In the latest study, researchers monitored the levels of greenhouse gases released by thawing permafrost beneath thermokarst lakes and their impact on climate change. Thermokarst lakes occur when warming soil melts ground ice and cause the surface to collapse, forming pools of water. These pools of water can lead to further permafrost thaw beneath the expanding lakes and contribute to climate warming.

"Thermokarst lakes provide a completely different scenario. When the lakes form, they flash-thaw these permafrost areas," said Walter Anthony, a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “Instead of centimeters of thaw, which is common for terrestrial environments, we've seen 15 meters of thaw beneath newly formed lakes in Goldstream Valley within the past 60 years.”

As part of the study, researchers observed hundreds of thermokarst lakes in Alaska and Siberia during a 12-year period. They measured their growth and showed how much methane was bubbling to their surface. When researchers combined their fieldwork results with remote-sensing data about changes in the lake during the past two years, they determined the release of greenhouse gases beneath thermokarst lakes is relatively rapid and the thawing of the permafrost beneath such lakes is likely to release large amounts of permafrost gases into the atmosphere this century. Researchers calculate that as thawing continues in the lakes; it could potentially double the release from terrestrial landscapes by the 2050s.

Current models attribute just 20 percent of the permafrost thawing in this century to methane. With thermokarst lakes, methane becomes the dominant driver responsible for 70 to 80 percent of warming-driven directly by permafrost thawing this century. Such feedback could act like a row of dominoes that would trigger a cascade of events.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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