Arctic lakes speed up permafrost thawing, global warming

Ученые рассказали о главной угрозе для климата Земли

Ученые рассказали о главной угрозе для климата Земли

Those pools accelerate permafrost thaw beneath the expanding lakes, providing food for microbes that produce the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane.

The team behind the new research measured carbon release at 72 different locations on 11 thermokarst lakes across Siberia and Alaska, plus five locations without lakes, to calculate how much greenhouse gas was being produced and how old the carbon it contained was.

Methane bubbles are trapped in the ice on a pond near Fairbanks, Alaska.

After examining the Arctic lakes in Alaska and Siberia over a period of 12 years, Katey Walter Anthony, the recent study's leading author, and her co-workers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks found out that what they called "abrupt thaw" is the culprit for the massive permafrost carbon emissions of this century. Thermokarst lakes occur when warming soil melts ground ice and cause the surface to collapse, forming pools of water.

The effort, conducted by a team of US and German researchers, is part of a 10-year NASA-funded project to better understand climate change effects on the Arctic. With thermokarst lakes, methane becomes the dominant driver responsible for 70 to 80 percent of warming-driven directly by permafrost thawing this century.

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This abrupt thawing of the permafrost beneath the lakes is especially risky because unlike shallow and gradual thawing of terrestrial permafrost, it is impossible to reverse it this century. "Over a few decades, thermokarst lake growth releases substantially more carbon than lake loss can lock in permafrost again [when the lake bottoms refreeze]". "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".

Emissions from thermokarst lakes aren't now factored into global climate models because their small size makes individual lakes hard to include.

Permafrost thaw may accelerate, and it is more devastating and potent than scientists originally thought. Human fossil fuel emissions are the number one source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and in comparison, methane emissions from thawing permafrost make up only one percent of the global methane budget, Walter Anthony said. It is a potent greenhouse gas that is nearly 30 times more harmful to the climate than another major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Existing models now attribute about 20 percent of the permafrost carbon feedback this century to methane, with the rest due to carbon dioxide from terrestrial soils. Most of the world's permafrost is found in areas of high latitudes, usually in close proximity to the Antarctic and Arctic regions. Permafrost is already thawing in some parts such as lakes beneath the Arctic. In addition, they used the field measurements to evaluate how well their model simulated the natural field conditions. However, Walter Anthony believes including them in future models is important for understanding the role of permafrost in the global carbon budget. "We can not get around this source of warming".

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