Monthly Archives: May 2015

Permafrost Thaw Feedback To Blow Carbon Budget ‘Faster Than We Would Expect’

The thawing permafrost was beginning to be an issue when I was an undergrad. I did a senior paper on Canadian soils for a Soil Genesis and Classification course back in 1982. At that time, changes were beginning to be observed. Tipsy houses and drunken forests were leaving people with hangovers, so to speak. Now permafrost thaw is a downright emergency, and yet that the most important public policy advisory reports, The IPCC, has yet to include this forcing in its calculations of future impacts and feedbacks. (Likewise with the disintegration of the ice sheets and it’s impacts on sea level rise, but that’s another topic.)

The root of the problem is fossil fuel emissions. There is no magic bullet to prevent the impacts from crippling civilization at this point. But, we can prevent it from getting worse than it already is.

We Need To Keep The Stuff In The Ground.


“Permafrost carbon emissions are likely to be felt over decades to centuries as northern regions warm, making climate change happen faster than we would expect based on projected emissions from human activities alone.” — Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

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Soil Organic Carbon Store

(Extent of Northern Hemisphere 1 meter soil organic carbon store in the now thawing and burning permafrost. At about 1,000 billion tons, it’s more than enough to put a hefty strain on the IPCC’s remaining 275 billion ton carbon budget. Image source: Stockholm University.)

For a moment, let’s consider some rather difficult to deal with numbers —

790 billion tons — that’s the so-called ‘carbon budget’ the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates we need to stay within to prevent 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming in just this Century (note that current stated fossil fuel reserves hold enough carbon to…

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