Woods Hole Scientist Participates in Arctic Permafrost Study

PermafrostWOODS HOLE – In a study published recently, an international team of scientists demonstrates the importance of soil moisture as a critical factor in determining the amount and form of carbon produced from thawing permafrost.

The team includes co-author and Woods Hole Research Center Associate Scientist Susan Natali.

Arctic permafrost is like a vast underground storage tank of carbon, holding almost twice as much as the atmosphere, and small changes in how the carbon is released will have big effects on the climate.

The scientists’ meta-analysis of 25 laboratory experiments of arctic soils found that both temperature and soil conditions affected the quantity and form of carbon released from thawing permafrost.

Understanding the form and quantity of carbon released into the atmosphere is important because it could accelerate rates of warming.

Methane packs 34 times the climate change punch of carbon dioxide.

A 10°C increase in soil temperature released twice as much carbon into the atmosphere, and drier, aerobic soil conditions released more than three times more carbon than wetter, anaerobic soil conditions.

As permafrost thaws, the increased microbial activity produces either carbon dioxide or methane, depending on soil conditions.

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