A new study shows that global warming is already affecting the frozen soils or permafrost in the Arctic. This permafrost is storing more than 10 times the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere so you can just imagine the potential impact if it melts.
While most scientists are busy monitoring the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, researchers at the University of Georgia's Skidaway Institute of Oceanography are studying the carbon locked in the frozen soils of Arctic believed to be thousands of years old. The team worries that as the temperature increases in the Arctic, it won't be long before the permafrost melts and releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The researchers compared the carbon stored in Arctic frozen soils to a food in the freezer.
"However, if you allow your food to defrost, eventually bacteria will eat away at it, causing it to decompose and release carbon dioxide," Aron Stubbins, study author from the University of Georgia institute, said in a university news release. "The same thing happens to permafrost when it thaws."
The team members focused its study on the Kolyma River, which contains organic materials. They took some samples of the permafrost and measured the age and the carbon dioxide levels. They allowed the permafrost to melt in a bottle so they can measure the amount of carbon that will be converted to carbon dioxide.
"We found that decomposition converted 60 percent of the carbon in the thawed permafrost to carbon dioxide in two weeks," Stubbins said. "This shows the permafrost carbon is definitely in a form that can be used by the microbes."
The findings confirmed an earlier belief that the carbon used by bacteria is at least 20,000 years old. It also provided evidence that the Arctic can be a main contributor to global warming.
Currently, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to rise per year. Meteorologists predicted that if it persists, the average temperature will increase by 2.5 degrees Celsius. However, this estimate factored in the heavy use of fossil fuels only.
The study was published in the April 23 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.