Climate change could lead to the disappearance of up to two-thirds of the world’s permafrost by the end of the century, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said on February 16.
Should the Earth’s permafrost (or permanently frozen soil) thaw out to this extent, it would release huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — and make climate change even worse.
NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer said the carbon released would be “equivalent to half the amount of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age”.
Schaefer was referring to a new study by scientists from the NSIDC and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences that concluded, based on predictions by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 29-59% of the permafrost would thaw by 2200.
Schaffer said the findings made big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions even more urgent.
“If we want to hit a target carbon concentration, then we have to reduce fossil fuel emissions that much lower than previously calculated to account for this additional carbon from the permafrost,” he said. “Otherwise we will end up with a warmer Earth than we want.”