What is Permafrost and How Does it Affect Climate? (Credit: International Permafrost Association, Climate Central)
Factors that inflict climatic changes Part 1:
DISCUSSION: When it comes to the climate system there are numerous significant factors that play a role in affecting it. Permafrost, for instance, is a factor within climate that can have detrimental effects if improperly preserved. For those who don’t know, permafrost is defined as ground (whether that be soil or rock) that does not reach temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius for at least two consecutive years. For this reason, the heaviest concentration of permafrost can be found in the Arctic. Today, permafrost covers roughly 5.8 million square miles, locking in vast amounts of carbon and methane from dead plants over the past decades and centuries.
This frozen soil contains more carbon than what is already present in the atmosphere. Acting as a greenhouse gas “freezer,” this soil preserves gases that, if released, could have substantial impacts on the atmosphere. Recently, permafrost has been contributing to the rise in greenhouse gases in a self-feeding cycle which is intensifying the very changes that are producing its decay. With the current increase of up to 2 degrees Celsius just within this century alone, it is estimated that 40-100 million tons of carbon per year could be released from permafrost and peat. Peat is made up of dead organic material with much of it lying below permafrost. As permafrost melts away—releasing carbon and methane—it reveals even more carbon material to be released into the atmosphere. With the release of this CO2, an estimated 0.29 degrees Celsius rise in temperature could occur on top of the already 1 to 2 degree increase.
The release of carbon can come from carbon dioxide and methane stored within the frozen ground. If bacteria interact with methane, the bacteria can break the methane down into smaller amounts of carbon dioxide. If not, methane can be directly released into the atmosphere. Methane is 20 to 25 times more destructive than carbon dioxide and directly contributes to a net warming of the Earth’s climate system. Although methane has a far lesser shelf life in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it possesses 80 times more heat-trapping potential.
With both methane and carbon dioxide being stored within permafrost, it is vital to preserve this aspect of the climate system. A positive feedback effect, which would warm the climate, would take place if substantial amounts of permafrost began to melt away. Permafrost is a vital component not only to the climate system but to the entire Earth as a whole. Like said above, consequences could occur if action to preserve permafrost is not taken.
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©2018 Weather Forecaster Alec Kownacki