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Something sinister is lurking under Alaska and threatening the world’s climate

A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the frozen soils of the Alaskan Tundra are releasing an increasing amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air.

TheCO2 release is thought to be the result of the soil thawing in summer and then failing to refreeze, as it used to, in late fall or early winter.

Although the Tundra has long been known as “sink” for trapping carbon in ice, it is now releasing more carbon than it stores.

The study was a joint effort from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The results found that the amount ofCO2 emitted from northern tundra areas between October and December each year has increased 70 percent since 1975.

“In the past, refreezing of soils may have taken a month or so but, with warmer temperatures in recent years, there are locations in Alaska where tundra soils now take more than three months to freeze completely,” said lead researcher Roisin Commane. “We are seeing emissions of carbon dioxide from soils continue all the way through this early winter period.”

Commane and her team analysed three years of aerial data gathered by NASA’s Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), which was created to measure Alaska’s COemissions. Ground data was also collected from the NOAA.

It is feared that the CO2 emissions in the Alaskan Tundra may speed up climate change. As the planet warms, Arctic soils melt and microbes break down plant matter and release ofCO2 into the atmosphere.

A lot of models were predicting this thawing would happen, but not for another 50 to 100 years – we didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” Commane told The Guardian. “The timescale of this surprised many of us…There is a lot of potentialCO2 from these soils, which worries people. We’d prefer the carbon stays there.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson is heading to Alaska today for talks on Arctic issues. He will be joined by foreign ministers of Russia, Canada and five other nations in the Arctic territory.

Although the New York Times reports that the meeting is expected to be dominated by formalities, it is hoped that Tillerson will return to the White House with news of the warming in the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese and his administration is currently considering pulling out of the Paris accord.

The Alaskan Tundra is big, but the permafrost regions of Canada and Russia are YUGE. If similar occurrences occur – or are already occurring – in those areas, things could get a whole lot worse real soon.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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