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Scientists warn leaders of dangers of thawing permafrost

Date:
August 27, 2015
Source:
Woods Hole Research Center
Summary:
WHRC scientists have counseled the State Department on policies that could control permafrost thaw, including reducing global carbon emissions from fossil fuel use and deforestation, and limiting emissions of 'black carbon,' sooty particles that darken snow and ice and hasten Arctic warming.
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As President Obama and high-level representatives of other nations converge in Anchorage, Alaska on August 30-31 for the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience (GLACIER), hosted by the U.S. Department of State, top U.S. climate scientists urge policymakers to address the critical problem of the thawing permafrost in the Arctic region.

Arctic permafrost -- ground that has been frozen for many thousands of years -- is now thawing because of global climate change, and the results could be disastrous and irreversible.

"The release of greenhouse gases resulting from thawing Arctic permafrost could have catastrophic global consequences," said Dr. Max Holmes, a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) who has been advising State Department officials on the problem.

Thawing permafrost releases greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane) into the atmosphere, which accelerates climate change, which in turn causes more thawing of the permafrost. This potentially unstoppable and self-reinforcing cycle could constitute a calamitous "tipping point."

WHRC scientists have counseled the State Department on policies that could control this problem, including reducing global carbon emissions from fossil fuel use and deforestation, and limiting emissions of "black carbon," sooty particles that darken snow and ice and hasten Arctic warming.

"Despite the importance and urgency of this problem, until now it has received little attention from policymakers," said Dr. Sue Natali, another WHRC scientist. A study published earlier this year by Dr. Natali and WHRC scientists estimated that greenhouse gases released from thawing permafrost could make it much more difficult to meet the widely held goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

"The United States must lead a large-scale effort to find the tipping point -- at what level of warming will the cycle of warming and permafrost thawing become impossible to stop," said Dr. Holmes. "The real and imminent threat posed by permafrost thawing must be communicated clearly and broadly to the general public and the policy community."

The key science points, implications and recommendations can be found in the WHRC Policy Brief, "Permafrost and Global Climate Change."


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Materials provided by Woods Hole Research Center. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Cite This Page:

Woods Hole Research Center. "Scientists warn leaders of dangers of thawing permafrost." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150827154413.htm>.
Woods Hole Research Center. (2015, August 27). Scientists warn leaders of dangers of thawing permafrost. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 26, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150827154413.htm
Woods Hole Research Center. "Scientists warn leaders of dangers of thawing permafrost." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150827154413.htm (accessed May 26, 2017).

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