Melting Permafrost Unlocks Carbon, Disease

By Jack Curtis Updated at 2017-09-06 16:58:53 +0000


The consequences of climate change are perhaps most weirdly expressed in the Arctic.

A recent article by Brian Resnick of explores the changes to Arctic permafrost, which has potentially far reaching consequences.

Consulting with Robert Max Holmes, a scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, Resnick identifies several impacts. The most critical is carbon. The permafrost locks in massive amounts of partially decomposed plant matter.

For tens of thousands of years, permafrost has acted like a freezer, keeping 1,400 gigatons (billion tons) of plant matter carbon trapped in the soil. (That’s more than double the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere.) Some of the plant matter is more recent, and some is from glacial ice ages that radically transformed a lush landscape into a tundra.

Thawing of the permafrost would expose that plant matter to microbial decomposition, which would vent carbon to the atmosphere.

Release of dormant anthrax from human and animal burial grounds is a concern, especially in Siberia.

Scientific knowledge is also lost as the natural history embodied in mammouth and human remains frozen in the tundra is exposed to forces of decomposition.