One study says melting permafrost could have far more dramatic consequences than previously thought

As you know, global warming is causing the ice at the North Pole and the South Pole to melt. This phenomenon is worrying insofar as it in turn leads to a rise in sea level, exposing small islands and coastal areas to the risk of submergence.

A new study now reports that the melting of frozen soil in Earth’s glacial regions could prove more dangerous than people think. At least that’s what Carsten W. Müller, a student of soil organic matter at the University of Copenhagen, suggests in a scientific paper recently published in the journal Nature.com.

The Arctic, a gigantic CO2 reservoir

According to the researchers, permafrost in the Arctic has the potential to contain up to 4 times more carbon than the amount of greenhouse gases that humans today have emitted so far. Faced with this observation, they are concerned about the consequences of the thaw in this region around the North Pole.

In fact, the Arctic could release a phenomenal amount of CO2 that our prediction models had not taken into account. The amount of additional carbon that can be emitted could be as much as 5% of all the CO2 already in our atmosphere, which is roughly 5 times the annual volume of our greenhouse gas emissions.

Microorganisms responsible for the release of carbon.

It turns out that this release of carbon is largely due to microorganisms. The rise in Earth’s temperature would have allowed these iron-eating microbes in frozen Arctic soil to return to normal life. Their activities appear to promote the melting of ice, which risks causing the escape of methane trapped in the permafrost. For Carsten W. Müller, this discovery means that there is a significant new source of CO2 emissions that researchers must carefully consider and analyze.

The edge of the permafrost. Photo credit: Shutterstock / Roman Strebkov

Samples taken in Sweden

For their study, the researchers sampled the Arctic permafrost in Sweden. Three blocks had been collected over three years in a peat bog in the north of the country. The finding was confirmed by one of the samples. The amount of carbon in frozen Arctic soil is estimated to represent that emitted by all the plants on Earth and all the CO2 already in the atmosphere combined.

As Science Alert points out, this research is of tremendous importance as the exact effects of iron in Arctic permafrost are not yet well understood. So a big step forward has been made by this international team of scientists, including Carsten W. Müller.