There’s an environmental time bomb ticking beneath the Arctic soil. Scientists warn that global warming could release huge stores of carbon dioxide trapped in Arctic soils, immediately accelerating climate change and disastrously impacting the environment.
Scientists have long known that organic carbon frozen in the world’s permafrost, which blankets one-fifth of Earth’s land mass, will release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when thawed. But they had no idea how much carbon was actually frozen in the icy tundra. University of Alaska researchers evaluated 117 meter deep soil samples to accurately gauge the volume of this “carbon pool.” Previous estimates were based on limited sampling at shallow depths.
The study found the North American carbon pool to be 60% greater than previously estimated and equivalent to about one-sixth of the atmosphere’s total carbon content. Researchers believe the tundra of Europe and Russia may contain similarly large carbon pools. Frozen temperatures are all that keep this material from thawing and flooding the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.
“Releasing even a portion of this carbon into the atmosphere, in the form of methane or carbon dioxide, would have a significant impact on Earth’s climate,” warns Christian Beer of Germany’s Max Planck Institute. With scientists predicting a 10.8 degree (Fahrenheit) increase in Arctic temperatures before the end of the century, the potential for disaster is immense.