Global Warming Could Thaw Far More Permafrost Than Expected, Study Suggests

First Posted: Apr 12, 2017 04:58 AM EDT

Global warming will defrost much more permafrost than researchers had estimated before. According to a new study, every 1°C of additional warming would thaw one-quarter of the frozen tundra on Earth. This will release huge amounts of heat trapped greenhouse gases, which in turn will warm the planet more, melt more permafrost and release more greenhouse gases. In short, global warming will amplify the carbon cycle.

The study that has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that an estimated 40 percent of the current permafrost areas could be lost to thawing, if the climate is stabilized at 2ºC above pre-Industrial levels. However, the crisis can be avoided with well-planned and more ambitious climate targets.

Scientists have predicted that nearly 4 million square kilometers of permafrost could be lost for each degree of global warming, if things go on like they are at present. This implies that a section of land larger than India’s size could be lost for every degree of global warming -- a scenario to be worried about. The research team used climate models to estimate the amount of permafrost that could disappear under the proposed climate stabilization targets.

“A lower stabilization target of 1.5ºC would save approximately 2 million square kilometers of permafrost,” team leader Dr. Sarah Chadburn, from the U.K.’s University of Leeds, said in a statement. "Achieving the ambitious Paris Agreement climate targets could contain permafrost loss. For the first time, we have calculated how much could be saved.”

According to a ThinkProgress report, the impending danger is one of the reasons why it is important that the U.S. sticks to its commitments made in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement saw the world  unanimously committing to limit carbon pollution to make sure total warming stays well under 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

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