Arctic Shifts to Carbon Source – Stunning Reversal After Capturing Carbon for Tens of Thousands of Years

ASCENDS Campaign Nome Alaska

The Active Sensing of Carbon Emissions over Nights, Days and Seasons (ASCENDS) campaign flew over Nome, Alaska, on August 5, 2017, as part of NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE). Credit: NASA

A NASA-funded study suggests winter carbon emissions in the Arctic may be adding more carbon into the atmosphere each year than is taken up by Arctic vegetation, marking a stark reversal for a region that has captured and stored carbon for tens of thousands of years.

The study, published October 21, 2019, in Nature Climate Change, warns that winter carbon dioxide loss from the world’s permafrost regions could increase by 41% over the next century if human-caused greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current pace. Carbon emitted from thawing permafrost has not been included in the majority of models used to predict future climates.

“The warmer it gets, the more carbon will be released into the atmosphere from the permafrost region, which will add to further warming.” — Brendan Rogers

Permafrost is the carbon-rich frozen soil that covers 24% of Northern Hemisphere land area, encompassing vast stretches of territory across Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland. Permafrost holds more carbon than has ever been released by humans via fossil fuel combustion, and this permafrost has kept carbon safely locked away in an icy embrace for tens of thousands of years. But as global temperatures warm, permafrost is thawing and releasing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

“These findings indicate that winter carbon dioxide loss may already be offsetting growing season carbon uptake, and these losses will increase as the climate continues to warm,” said Woods Hole Research Center Arctic Program Director Sue Natali, lead author of the study. “Studies focused on individual sites have seen this transition, but until now we haven’t had a clear accounting of the winter carbon balance throughout the entire Arctic region.”

Alaskan Permafrost

A deep cut into an Alaskan hillside reveals thousands of years-old permafrost, often called the “fossilized glaciers” of the cryosphere. Credit: NASA/Jefferson Beck

This study was supported by NASA’s Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment  (ABoVE) and conducted in coordination with the Permafrost Carbon Network and more than 50 collaborating institutions. In addition to space-based observations of Earth’s changing environment, NASA sponsors scientific field campaigns to advance our understanding of how our climate is changing and could change in the future.

Researchers compiled on-the-ground observations of carbon dioxide emissions across many sites and combined these with remote sensing data and ecosystem models to assess current and future carbon losses during winter for northern permafrost regions. They estimate a yearly loss of 1.7 billion metric tons of carbon from the permafrost region during the winter season from 2003 to 2017 compared to the estimated average of 1 billion metric tons of carbon taken up during the growing season.

To extend model predictions to warmer conditions in 2100, the climate predicted for different scenarios of future fossil fuel emissions were used to calculate the effect on permafrost. If fossil fuel use is modestly reduced over the next century, winter carbon dioxide emissions would increase by 17% compared with current emissions. Under a scenario where fossil fuel use continues to increase at current rates through the middle of the century, winter carbon dioxide emissions from permafrost would rise by 41%.

“The warmer it gets, the more carbon will be released into the atmosphere from the permafrost region, which will add to further warming,” said co-author Brendan Rogers, a climate scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. “It’s concerning that our study, which used many more observations than ever before, indicates a much stronger Arctic carbon source in the winter. We may be witnessing a transition from an annual Arctic carbon sink to a carbon source, which is not good news.”

Climate modeling teams across the globe are trying to incorporate processes and dynamic events that influence permafrost’s carbon emissions. For example, thermokarst lakes formed by melting ice can speed up the rate of carbon dioxide emissions by exposing deeper layers of permafrost to warmer temperatures. Likewise, Arctic and boreal forest fires, which are becoming more frequent and severe, can remove the insulating top layer of soil, accelerating and deepening permafrost thaw.

“Those interactions are still not accounted for in most of the models and will undoubtedly increase estimates of carbon emissions from permafrost regions,” Rogers said.

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Reference: “Large loss of CO2 in winter observed across the northern permafrost region” by Susan M. Natali, Jennifer D. Watts, Brendan M. Rogers, Stefano Potter, Sarah M. Ludwig, Anne-Katrin Selbmann, Patrick F. Sullivan, Benjamin W. Abbott, Kyle A. Arndt, Leah Birch, Mats P. Björkman, A. Anthony Bloom, Gerardo Celis, Torben R. Christensen, Casper T. Christiansen, Roisin Commane, Elisabeth J. Cooper, Patrick Crill, Claudia Czimczik, Sergey Davydov, Jinyang Du, Jocelyn E. Egan, Bo Elberling, Eugenie S. Euskirchen, Thomas Friborg, Hélène Genet, Mathias Göckede, Jordan P. Goodrich, Paul Grogan, Manuel Helbig, Elchin E. Jafarov, Julie D. Jastrow, Aram A. M. Kalhori, Yongwon Kim, John S. Kimball, Lars Kutzbach, Mark J. Lara, Klaus S. Larsen, Bang-Yong Lee, Zhihua Liu, Michael M. Loranty, Magnus Lund, Massimo Lupascu, Nima Madani, Avni Malhotra, Roser Matamala, Jack McFarland, A. David McGuire, Anders Michelsen, Christina Minions, Walter C. Oechel, David Olefeldt, Frans-Jan W. Parmentier, Norbert Pirk, Ben Poulter, William Quinton, Fereidoun Rezanezhad, David Risk, Torsten Sachs, Kevin Schaefer, Niels M. Schmidt, Edward A. G. Schuur, Philipp R. Semenchuk, Gaius Shaver, Oliver Sonnentag, Gregory Starr, Claire C. Treat, Mark P. Waldrop, Yihui Wang, Jeffrey Welker, Christian Wille, Xiaofeng Xu, Zhen Zhang, Qianlai Zhuang and Donatella Zona, 21 October 2019, Nature Climate Change.
DOI: 10.1038/s41558-019-0592-8

31 Comments on "Arctic Shifts to Carbon Source – Stunning Reversal After Capturing Carbon for Tens of Thousands of Years"

  1. MAN made climate change is HORESHIT it’s not manmm

    • You sad, delusional, uninformed moron. Luckily for the rest of society, people like yourself, unreasonable simpletons that lack even the most basic critical thinking skills, are dying off at a rapid pace! I can’t believe you would actually post a comment like that on the internet for all to see. Not only are you not embarrassed by your ignorance, you actually seem to be PROUD of it! That is just incredible

      • Congratulations on your intellectual comments to Mark. Just bad mouth him and call him names. Now that is pathetic. The question is not whether there there is climate change but how much is man made and how much is Mother Nature. We certainly cannot break the bank trying to fix it. Some reasonable approach would be great.

    • Not “manmm” you say? well, covefe to you, sir!

  2. History always repeats itself , get over it

  3. Your Mom is horseshit

  4. Science gets it wrong for years upon years before the admission of it’s mistake. Then quickly comes up with the new explanation for years upon years… What shape will the universe be next year…wait a minute, who says it has a shape and why does it have to fit within our understanding of what we’ve previously learned how to define?

  5. Hey Michael,
    How do you explain centuries old evidence in ice cores and tree rings that show natural climate changes? Sometimes quite severe changes. There ware no cars or factories then.

    • True that the climate changes all the time, but there were Very VERY few humans who could live in those conditions. We want the nice temperate climate we’ve been having for the past couple hundred years. Heck, look at what the “year without a summer” did to crops and human food supplies.

  6. Daniel Caughey | November 9, 2019 at 9:43 am | Reply

    I think we still have alot to learn about the issue of climate change and the part humans actually play in it…I believe some of the science is corr4ect but also think alot is just guessing..the Earth has been thru several ice ages where its cooled and warmed up over time…according to some of the left wing nutjobs we’ve got about 12 yrs before we’re doomed…Al Gore said the ice caps would be gone before 2020 and they’re not…so who do you believe????its a big confusing puzzle….

  7. Man made climate change that will be fixed only if we give control to our left wing fascist politicians and send them even more $ to “fix” the manufactured problem. Never let a crisis go to waste unfortunately.

    • I agree that sending money to politicians (especially those jerk offs) is never the answer, but I’m glad you agree that the problem DOES need to get fixed.

  8. One more thing those scientists get their $ from grants provided by those same fascist deep state left wing and globalist politicians and their partners in crime in the deep state.

    • Jay, you’ll note that many retired scientists don’t believe in climate change. That don’t have to grease the wheel to get grants any longer.

  9. Every REAL intelligent person knows carbon dioxide feeds all plant life which in turn feeds all human/ animal species oxygen. Stop lying. Every one knows liberalism/ communism is the real disease that needs to be eradicated.

    • CO2 feeds plants like bread feeds us. Imagine more and more bread in your diet. Nothing but bread. It’s so hot. You’re sweating but you only have a tiny glass of water. There’s no meat left, only bread. It surrounds you, covers you, you can’t move in the bread. You’re too weak from the lack of vitamins, your scurvy is getting worse but there’s only more and more bread.

  10. Vicki Nikolaidis | November 9, 2019 at 10:27 am | Reply

    Permafrost is similar to a canary in a coal mine. This is incredibly important research. Thank goodness we have no logical reasons to rely on war as a foreign policy nor on fossil fuels for energy. Wiil brains or brain washing win out? I hope we will all be here to find out.

  11. All this warming is really bringing the trolls out, isn’t it? It’s not a picnic without trolls!

  12. Climate bullsh*t

  13. Effing climate alarmists just won’t stop. We don’t believe your crazy propaganda. Look outside, stupid.

  14. It’s hard to believe this surprises anyone who’s been paying attention. We’ve been told this was going to start happening for what, a decade now, longer?

    Why won’t US policy makers listen to the people? Why won’t the people fight for the world they’re leaving for their children?

    It’s like, there’s nothing unnatural about a forest fire, but if we’re all living in a mountain town in the woods it’s really something we should try to prevent from killing us all.

    Please keep my home from burning.

  15. All errors in Alarmists’ models are claimed to make WARMING worse. The alarmists should question the failed models!

  16. We just happen to be able to witness this Melt. Which is a normal event for our planet. Nothing new here. Recorded before, just study/observe it. We will never see another. Our species will hopefully survive. The Dinos and other things didn’t do well.

  17. NASA, media liberals, demoncrats are all owned by the UN globalists. There is not man made global warming. The UN are in overdrive because they need money to pay their million dollar wages. There is pollution which has to be addressed. The planet is always changing. People are too stupid to do their research instead they follow fake media and corrupt politicians.

  18. In the US, October ranked 21 of 125 warmest (well below normal). Most of the Western areas of the US it ranked between 1 to 4 (basically coldest October for these areas). Currently Novembee is well below normal and probably will rank somewhere between 10th to 30th warmest out of 125. If CO2 was the cause of warming the Earth this would not be happening (which it is not!). The good news is we don’t have give our money to the government so they can waste it on supposedly reducing g CO2. It would be an exercise in futility anyway, unless you get countries like China, etc. on board (not likely to happen).

  19. James Campbell | November 9, 2019 at 5:14 pm | Reply

    Oh, so now the thawing of the Permafrost layer is the “Canary in the Coal Mine”. A few decades ago the “top” scientists (paid with HUGE $s in grants) pointed to the demise of Polar Bears as the CitCM, with the media (in the bag with the loony left) showing pics of Polar Bears on chunks of ice supposedly floating away from land to die at sea. I guess the jump in Polar Bear numbers leaves the left hunting new Canaries. Happy hunting idiots. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on ME.

  20. In 1625 the Golden Fleece was the first book written in North America by early colonizers of New World.
    They write that tobacco is bad for the lung and heart and that climate can be influenced by human activities.
    They sought to map out the climate change by latitude and noted the milder climates in great Britain and Europe compared to uninhabited New England. The Indians were mostly goñe due to 1616 plaques.
    The Golden Fleece by William Vaughan is anti Catholic because of their punishment of new knowledge.
    Today Republicans have replace the Catholic Church in science denial.

  21. I think by now everyone can agree the climate is changing. But it has been since the beginning of the Earth. We can’t accurately know what happened before we were here, and I’m sure that no matter what the cause is, we can’t do anything about it. That’s what aggravates me the most – people saying we need to “sacrifice” everything to combat “climate change”. What we should be doing, is learning how to adapt. We can’t stop it, we need adapt to it.

  22. Politician and celebrities have been screeching about global warming/cooling/doomsday for hundreds of years. Every time their predictions are wrong. They are 0 for ever …

  23. When the polar ice sheets melted and retreated to much more northern latitudes, the permafrost slowly melted for thousands of years and obviously released CO2. Today Greenland still has ice 2 miles thick, which is an indication of accumulation during the ice age which process is not finished and will continue until the next ice age. Why any surprise? It’s definitely a natural cycle of events.

  24. Can’t we all agree that pumping noxious fumes and exhaust and smoke and smog into the air is bad? Does it matter if the climate changing is entirely man-made or a natural cycle or a combination? It’s likely still happening and will likely have profound negative global effects. We have a responsibility as the smartest and most capable inhabitants of this biosphere to both improve the quality of and preserve, protect, and foster life. Simple.

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