From Science Daily we learn of a new study published in the Journal of BioScience, Sep. 2008, on potential impacts of thawing arctic permafrost. Over millennia, according to the study authors, northern latitude permafrost has sequestered a trillion tons of organic compounds. Warming in the Arctic, which melts the polar ice cap, also has the effect of melting the permafrost and releasing carbon dioxide. The new study doubles the estimated amount of carbon stored, and likewise increases the amount estimated to be released into the atmosphere as the permafrost warms. In fact the estimate now is that leakage from northern permafrost may be the equivalent of half of all other carbon released by land use in this century on Earth.
It is this phenomenon that leads some scientists to be concerned about a run-away climate change scenario, in which temperatures could spiral more rapidly that can be dealt with. One possible counter balance will be the encroachment of carbon absorbing trees into the tundra, but this process is quite slow in relative terms.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet TV show host and founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.