Thursday, 17 August 2006

Fast permafrost melting as you read this

Ancient woolly mammoth bones and grasslands locked in the Siberian permafrost are starting to thaw and could potentially unleash billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming, a team of Russian and American scientists has concluded.

The area involved is vast — 400,000 square miles. If the permafrost continues to thaw and releases heat-trapping carbon dioxide, it could dramatically increase the 730 billion metric tons already in the atmosphere, the scientists said in a study published in today's issue of the journal Science.

"It's like taking food out of your freezer … leave it on your counter for a few days, and it rots," University of Florida botany professor Ted Schuur said in a phone interview from Alaska, describing the process by which decaying animal and plant matter in the soil is converted by bacteria into carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases.

Scientists, including this team, are working to document how fast the permafrost is melting. A 2005 study by the U.S. Center for Atmospheric Research estimated that about 10 feet of permafrost would melt in the 21st century, meaning billions of tons of gases could be released if global warming was not slowed or halted.

I don't know if people realise by it's quite frightening,
Read more L.A. Times