On 10th April, 2017, scientists warned that sub-Arctic frozen wastelands, which are loaded with greenhouse gases and which heat the planet are more vulnerable to global warming than previously anticipated. According to them, even the 2C climate goal set above the industrial levels in the Paris Agreement will melt above 40% of the permafrost. This covers an area that is two times India’s size. These recent findings were reported in the Nature Climate Change journal.
Even though it will take centuries for the permafrost to melt, the gases that will be released in the air will drive up temperatures all over the world. The trend is only expected to continue with increasing pace, if more gases are released.
The fifteen million square kilometer northern hemisphere is sometimes called as the “Climate Change Time Bomb”. The permafrost found on this hemisphere contains twice the carbon found on the earth’s atmosphere and is formed from a combination of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane.
Currently, there are 400 parts/million of carbon dioxide. This is 30% more as compared to the warming, which was caused in the 19th century by human activity. Sebastian Westermann, the study’s co-author and University of Oslo’s lecturer said that around one million to four million in square kilometers will disappear if warming is increased by a single degree. According to him, this amounts to 20% activity higher than what was estimated previously.
The plant has already experienced a 1C increase in heat due to global warming caused by humans. The climate science panel of UN concluded that if this global warming by humans continues, the planet will heat up by another 1C. As of now, the earth is on its way to reaching a 2C increase by the end of this century. This can only be stopped if a step is taken to remove global emissions in the coming years.
The calculations made do not include how the melting permafrost will be affected. A report from Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) of UN talks just about uncertainties, while discounting the possibility that the gases, which will be released due to melting soils, will add to global warming significantly by 2100.
However, the climate models, which are made by predicting gas emissions, do not paint a good picture about the permafrost in the future. To avoid any uncertainties in the climate models, Sandra Chadburn, who works at University of Leeds, lead a scientist team to use the “basic” approach that is mainly based on observations.
According to Westermann, “Our method allows for a projection of how much permafrost will be lost at what temperature but it doesn’t tell us how long that will take”. He believes that the findings through observations should be used as a standard for predicting future models.
Permafrost is usually found between the north Arctic Circle and the south boreal forest across northern Alaska, Canada and Europe. The depth varies from five meters to above hundred meters. The carbon stock in this permafrost is found at the surface. Around 35 million people are currently living in this zone. There’s a possibility that as this permafrost melts, the ground will become soft and buildings in large cities will collapse in twenty years.