Although recent research done by Earth system scientists from the University of California, Irvine shows that some Arctic locations are experiencing deeper snowpack than typical, human-caused climate change is having an influence on the Arctic by shortening the snow cover period. Strangely, the thawing of long-frozen permafrost carbon reserves is being sparked by this heavy snow, which is increasing emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.
The research, which was just published in AGU Advances, is the first long-term experiment to directly track the release of ancient carbon year-round. It shows how quickly deeper snow may mobilise carbon from the soil’s deep layers. Earth system science professor and lead author Claudia Czimczik said that this data confirms the hypothesis that permafrost carbon releases would contribute to the the escalating atmospheric levels of CO2.
The study was conducted at the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX), which was founded in 1994 to evaluate the effects of deeper snow on Arctic tundra ecosystems and is located at Toolik Lake, Alaska. Recent fieldwork at the location, however, showed that the permafrost beneath substantial snow layers—three to four times thicker than the norm since 1994—had begun to thaw, turning the tussock tundra ecosystem into a constant supply of ancient carbon dioxide.
At first, the researchers didn’t think that the deeper snow treatment would cause the permafrost to thaw so quickly. This finding implies that permafrost stability can quickly adapt to changes in winter snow conditions in the Arctic and possibly elsewhere.
The results have important ramifications since they show that emissions from Arctic sources would persist even if global emissions stopped right away. This information challenges the usage of the complicated permafrost emissions now ignored by groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their current climate models. However, the study’s sensors made it possible to detect permafrost carbon emissions directly, providing useful information for comprehending and modelling these emissions.
The scientists found that permafrost thaws because more snow acts as insulation. As a result, organic material that had previously been frozen can be broken down by microorganisms, releasing greenhouse gases in the process. The unanticipated permafrost emission event suggests that emissions might start sooner than planned.
Czimczik expressed the hope that greater understanding of the origins of natural emissions will inspire group efforts to reduce emissions created by people. To reach greenhouse gas and temperature targets, she highlighted that people, businesses, and governments must reduce emissions and spend money on carbon capture technologies.
The study essentially reveals an unanticipated result of thicker snow in the Arctic, which intensifies the release of ancient carbon from thawing permafrost. This underlines the crucial connection between climate change and natural processes in determining the destiny of our planet and emphasises the necessity of controlling emissions caused by people.