Latest on the fate of permafrost carbon

December 1, 2011 – 5:36 pm

A new analysis (paywalled) of the role of permafrost carbon in climate change was published this week in Nature┬áby Ted Schuur and Ben Abbott. They helpfully compiled a lot of what we know and don’t know about the issue and made some best estimates based on a survey of experts. The bad news:

We calculate that permafrost thaw will release the same order of magnitude of carbon as deforestation if current rates of deforestation continue. But because these emissions include significant quantities of methane, the overall effect on climate could be 2.5 times larger.

The slightly less apocalyptic qualification to the bad news:

But despite the massive amount of carbon in permafrost soils, emissions from these soils are unlikely to overshadow those from the burning of fossil fuels, which will continue to be the main source of climate forcing. Permafrost carbon release will still be an important amplifier of climate change, however, and is in some ways more problematic: it occurs in remote places, far from human influence, and is dispersed across the landscape.

No actual good news at this point, but it will be interesting to follow the development of our knowledge on the fate of permafrost carbon.

  1. 2 Responses to “Latest on the fate of permafrost carbon”

  2. you should make a handy graphic showing carbon emissions by activity or natural occurence, kind of like the radiation graphic from xkcd! From the post it sounds like deforestation is a problem, but much less (potentially) than permafrost, which in turn is much less that burning fossil fuels.

    By Chris on Dec 2, 2011

  3. As you probably saw, this has been done and I posted the graphic. I do like that xkcd graphic. It’s a great way to understand numbers over a lot of orders of magnitude. Also, that one about money was insane!

    By Anthony on Dec 2, 2011

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