'Arctic Armageddon' needs more science, less hype

    R.A. Kerr. Science (2010) 329(5992):620-621. The threat of global warming amplifying itself by triggering massive methane releases is real and may already be under way, providing plenty of fodder for scary headlines. But what researchers understand about the threat points to a less malevolent, more protracted process. 

    A baseline study of permafrost in the Toklat Basin, Denali National Park and Preserve

    L.C. Yocum et al. Alaska Park Science (2007) 6(2):37-40. The Toklat Basin is a remote and intact ecosystem in northeastern Denali National Park and Preserve. Until recently, natural and physical resource baseline data of the basin were sparse. The authors conducted a reconnaissance survey of surficial geology, permafrost, and permafrost-related features over two field seasons and found the Toklat Basin to be a permafrost-rich environment with many geomorphic features indicative of thawing permafrost. (PDF, 355 KB)

    Ancient permafrost and a future, warmer Arctic

    D.G. Froese et al. Science (2008) 321(5896):1648. Authors report the presence of relict ground ice in subarctic Canada that is greater than 700,000 years old, with the implication that ground ice in this area has survived past interglaciations that were warmer and of longer duration than the present interglaciation.

    Arctic will transform into greenhouse gas source by 2100

    D. O'Harra, Alaska Dispatch, September 2, 2011 Thawing of Arctic permafrost will likely dump 68 billion extra tons of carbon into the air before 2100, giving global warming an unexpected jolt and transforming the Far North into one of the world's net sources for climate-changing greenhouse gases, according to a new study by an international team of scientists.

    As climate changes, methane trapped under Arctic Ocean could bubble to the surface

    D. Krotz, Berkeley Lab, May 4, 2011. A two-part study by scientists from the U.S Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Los Alamos National Laboratory paints one of the most detailed pictures yet of how climate change could impact millions of tons of methane frozen in sediment beneath the Arctic Ocean.

    Climate change disequilibrium of boreal permafrost peatlands caused by local processes

    P. Camill, J.S. Clark. The American Naturalist (1998) 151(3):207-222. Boreal forest and tundra are the biomes expected to experience the greatest warming during the course of the next century. The transient responses of boreal peatlands to climate change could be more complex than a simple large release of carbon and rapid migrations of vegetation and permafrost.

    Climate change scientists turn up the heat in Alaska

    ScienceDaily, June 30, 2010. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory are planning a large-scale, long-term ecosystem experiment to test the effects of global warming on the icy layers of arctic permafrost.

    Climate change: High risk of permafrost thaw

    E.A.G. Schuur, B. Abbott. Nature (2011) 480(7375):32-33. Northern soils will release huge amounts of carbon in a warmer world, say Edward A. G. Schuur, Benjamin Abbott, and the Permafrost Carbon Network.

    Climate-driven release of carbon and mercury from permafrost mires increases mercury loading to sub-arctic lakes

    J. Rydberg. Science of the Total Environment (2010) 408(20):4778-4783. Many northern peatlands are currently underlain by permafrost, which controls mire stability and hydrology. With the ongoing climate change, there is concern that permafrost thawing will turn large areas of these peatlands from carbon/mercury-sinks into much wetter carbon/mercury-sources.

    Cryosphere: Permafrost protection

    A. Newton. Nature Geoscience () doi:10.1038/ngeo.2007.9. Peat layers and Arctic forests may insulate permafrost from rising air temperatures.

    Disequilibrium response of permafrost thaw to climate warming in Canada over 1850-2100

    Y. Zhang et al. Geophysical Research Letters (2008) doi:10.1029/2007GL032117. In this study, the authors simulated the transient changes in ground thermal regimes and permafrost status in Canada over 1850-2100 at a half-degree latitude/longitude resolution using a process-based model.

    Effects of experimental warming of air, soil and permafrost on carbon balance in Alaskan tundra

    S.M. Natali et al. Global Change Biology (2011) 17(3):1394-1407. To determine the effects of air and soil warming on CO2 exchange in tundra, the authors established an ecosystem warming experiment—the Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research (CiPEHR) project—in the northern foothills of the Alaska Range in Interior Alaska.

    Extensive methane venting to the atmosphere from sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf

    N. Shakhova et al. Science (2010) 327(5970):1246-1250. Remobilization to the atmosphere of only a small fraction of the methane held in East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) sediments could trigger abrupt climate warming. It is believed that sub-sea permafrost acts as a lid to keep this shallow methane reservoir in place.

    Fears grow over melting permafrost

    Q. Schiermeier. Nature (2001) Nature 409:751. A seventh of the Earth's carbon is stored in frozen Arctic soil, scientists say, and huge amounts of greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere if rising temperatures cause the permafrost to melt and its organic material to be broken down by bacteria.

    Fears surface over methane leaks

    Q. Schiermeier, Nature News, September 26, 2008. Preliminary data from two Arctic cruises suggest that rising temperatures are already causing substantial amounts of methane to be released from beneath the ocean floor. But catastrophic gas leaks, like those believed to have occurred 55 million years ago, are unlikely, scientists say.

    Frozen Ground: The News Bulletin of the International Permafrost Association

    This is an annual publication of the IPA, which was founded in 1983 and has as its objectives to foster the dissemination of knowledge concerning permafrost and to promote cooperation among persons and national or international organizations engaged in scientific investigation and engineering work on permafrost.

    Geochemistry of west Siberian streams and their potential response to permafrost degradation

    K.E. Frey et al. Water Resources Research (2007) 43(3). Warming and permafrost degradation will likely amplify the transport of dissolved solids to the Kara Sea and adjacent Arctic Ocean. Permafrost forms a confining barrier that inhibits the infiltration of surface water through deep mineral horizons and restricts mineral-rich subpermafrost groundwater from reaching surface water pathways. With climate warming and subsequent permafrost thaw, this region may transition from a surface water–dominated system to a groundwater-dominated system. (559 KB)

    Global climate change: Permafrost and the changing Arctic

    Education module within the Earth System Science Education Alliance (ESSEA), a NASA-, NSF- and NOAA-supported program implemented by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) to improve the quality of geoscience instruction for pre-service and in-service K-12 teachers.

    High nitrous oxide production from thawing permafrost

    B. Elberling et al. Nature Geoscience (2010) 3(5):332-335. The authors examined the impact of thawing on nitrous oxide production in permafrost cores collected from a heath site and a wetland site in Zackenberg, Greenland.

    Impacts of peat and vegetation on permafrost degradation under climate warming

    S. Yi et al. Geophysical Research Letters (2007) 34:doi:10.1029/2007GL030550. A thin peat layer or surface organic cover can significantly buffer the permafrost against severe degradation. The occurrence of vegetation and extensive presence of a peat and organic layer in the circumpolar areas will modulate the regional impact of climate warming on permafrost thaw.

    Large methane releases could swamp Arctic's ability to absorb the gas

    Yale Environment 360, May 5, 2011. A new study by two U.S. government research laboratories forecasts that vast amounts of methane frozen in Arctic Ocean sediments could be released into the marine environment and the atmosphere as the region warms.

    Large N2O emissions from cryoturbated peat soil in tundra

    M.E. Repo et al. Nature Geoscience (2009) 2(3):189-192. The authors conclude that not only carbon but also nitrogen stored in permafrost soils has to be considered when assessing the present and future climatic impact of tundra.

    Large tundra methane burst during onset of freezing

    M. Mastepanov et al. Nature (2008) 456:628-630. Permafrost-associated freeze-in bursts of methane emissions from tundra regions could be an important and so far unrecognized component of the seasonal distribution of methane emissions from high latitudes.

    Largest recorded tundra fire yields scientific surprises

    Science Daily, July 27, 2011. A study of the 2007 Anaktuvuk River fire on Alaska's North Slope revealed how rapidly a single tundra fire can offset or reverse a half-century worth of soil-stored carbon.

    Melting Arctic Ocean raises threat of 'methane time bomb'

    S.Q. Stranahan, Environment 360 (2008). Scientists have long believed that thawing permafrost in Arctic soils could release huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Now they are watching with increasing concern as methane begins to bubble up from the bottom of the fast-melting Arctic Ocean.

    Melting permafrost

    PRI's "The World," February 25, 2011. Interview with Kevin Schaefer, research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

    Melting permafrost in Siberia - Climate voices

    GreenpeaceVideo, 2009. Greenpeace reports that the melting permafrost not only affects the way of life of the indigenous nomadic Nenets people, but also adds burden on climate change due to massive release of methane and carbon dioxide due to decomposion in the defrosting soil. [03:37 min]

    Melting tundra creating vast river of waste into Arctic Ocean

    ScienceDaily, January 12, 2010. The increase in temperature in the Arctic has already caused the sea-ice there to melt. According to research conducted by the University of Gothenburg, if the Arctic tundra also melts, vast amounts of organic material will be carried by the rivers straight into the Arctic Ocean, resulting in additional emissions of carbon dioxide.

    Methane bubbling from northern lakes: Present and future contributions to the global methane budget

    K.M. Walter et al. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A (2007) 365(1856):1657-1676. Large uncertainties in the budget of atmospheric methane (CH4) limit the accuracy of climate change projections. Here, the authors describe and quantify an important source of CH4—point-source ebullition (bubbling) from northern lakes—that has not been incorporated in previous regional or global methane budgets. (PDF, 481.2 KB)

    Methane bubbling from Siberian thaw lakes as a positive feedback to climate warming

    K.M. Walter et al. Nature (2006) 443:71-75. Thaw lakes in North Siberia are known to emit methane, but the magnitude of these emissions remains uncertain because most methane is released through ebullition (bubbling), which is spatially and temporally variable. Here, the authors report a new method of measuring ebullition and use it to quantify methane emissions from two thaw lakes in North Siberia.

    Methane bursts from frozen tundra

    A. Barnett, Nature News, December 3, 2008. Ice build-up may squeeze greenhouse gas from cold soil.

    Methane emissions from permafrost thaw lakes limited by lake drainage

    J. van Huissteden et al. Nature Climate Change (2011) 1:119-123. Results suggest that methane emissions from thaw lakes in Siberia are an order of magnitude less alarming than previously suggested, although predicted lake expansion will still profoundly affect permafrost ecosystems and infrastructure.

    Methane flare from a lake in Fairbanks, Alaska

    Researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) are studying methane generated by lakes created by thawing permafrost. This YouTube video shows a field trip in December 2008 that illustrates a typical methane "hot spot" under the ice. [01:30 min]

    Methane releases from Arctic Shelf may be much larger and faster than anticipated

    ScienceDaily, March 5, 2010. A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas, according to the findings of an international research team led by University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov.

    Modelling geomorphic response to climatic change

    N.J. Couture, W.H. Pollard. Climatic Change (2007) 85(3-4):407-431. This paper develops a three-step thaw model to assess the impact of predicted warming on an ice-rich polar desert landscape in the Canadian high Arctic.

    Modelling past and future permafrost conditions in Svalbard

    B. Etzelmüller et al. Cryosphere (2010) 4(4):1877-1908. Variations in ground thermal conditions in Svalbard were studied based on measurements and theoretical calculations. The authors discuss ground temperature development since the early 20th century, and the thermal responses in relation to ground characteristics and snow cover.

    Modelling the temperature evolution of permafrost and seasonal frost in southern Norway during the 20th and 21st century

    T. Hipp et al. Cryosphere (2011) 5(2):811-854. A heat flow model was used to simulate both past and future ground temperatures of mountain permafrost in Southern Norway.

    Molecular investigations into a globally important carbon pool: permafrost-protected carbon in Alaskan soils

    M.P. Waldrop et al. Global Change Biology (2010) 16(9):2543-2554. The fate of carbon (C) contained within permafrost in boreal forest environments is an important consideration for the current and future carbon cycle as soils warm in northern latitudes. Currently, little is known about the microbiology or chemistry of permafrost soils that may affect its decomposition once soils thaw.

    Northern wildfires threaten runaway climate change, study reveals

    Science Daily, December 6, 2010. Fires in the Alaskan interior—an area spanning 18.5 million hectares—have become more severe in the past 10 years and have released much more carbon into the atmosphere than was stored by the region's forests over the same period.

    Observational evidence of recent change in the northern high-latitude environment

    M.C. Serreze et al. Climatic Change (2000) 46(1-2):159-207. Studies from a variety of disciplines document recent change in the northern high-latitude environment. Prompted by predictions of an amplified response of the Arctic to enhanced greenhouse forcing, the authors present a synthesis of these observations.

    Observing the scars of the Arctic thaw

    J. Qiu, Nature News, June 30, 2009. Ecologist Breck Bowden talks about the consequences of thawing permafrost in Alaska.

    Permafrost and the global carbon budget

    S.A. Zimov et al. Science (2006) 312(5780):1612-1613. Climate warming will thaw permafrost, releasing trapped carbon from this high-latitude reservoir and further exacerbating global warming.

    Permafrost carbon-climate feedbacks accelerate global warming

    C.D. Koven et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2011) 108(39). Permafrost soils contain enormous amounts of organic carbon, which could act as a positive feedback to global climate change due to enhanced respiration rates with warming.

    Permafrost change: What it means to Alaskans and how we can adapt

    Fact sheet published by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program with support from the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP). (PDF, 992 KB)

    Permafrost could release vast amounts of carbon and accelerate climate change by end of century

    Science Daily, August 24, 2011. Billions of tons of carbon trapped in high-latitude permafrost may be released into the atmosphere by the end of this century as Earth's climate changes, further accelerating global warming, a new computer modeling study indicates.

    Permafrost degradation and ecological changes associated with a warming climate in central Alaska

    M.T. Jorgenson et al. Climatic Change (2001) 48(4):551-579. Studies from 1994-1998 on the Tanana Flats in central Alaska reveal that permafrost degradation is widespread and rapid, causing large shifts in ecosystems from birch forests to fens and bogs.

    Permafrost degradation risk zone assessment using simulation models

    R.P. Daanen et al. Cryosphere (2011) 5(2):1021-1053. Climate change is detrimental to permafrost and related processes, from hydrological and ecological to societal. The authors present the current and future state of permafrost in Greenland as modeled numerically with the GIPL model driven by HIRHAM climate projections till 2075.

    Permafrost science and secondary education: Direct involvement of teachers and students in field research

    A.E. Klene et al. Geomorphology (2002) 47(2-4):275-287. Permafrost and periglacial geomorphology are absent from the science curriculum in most secondary schools in the United States. This is an unfortunate situation given the recent increases in development and environmental concerns in northern latitudes and high-mountain areas, and the interesting examples of basic scientific principles found in the history of research on periglacial geomorphology and permafrost.

    Permafrost that lives up to its name

    H. Hoag, Nature News, September 18, 2008. A 740,000-year-old wedge of ice discovered in central Yukon Territory, Canada, is the oldest known ice in North America. It suggests that permafrost has survived climates warmer than today's, according to a new study.

    Permafrost-climatic monitoring of Russia: Analysis of field data and forecast

    A.V. Pavlov. Polar Geography (2008) 31(1-2):27-46. The author surveys work currently under way in the Russian Federation to assess the interrelationship between climate and permafrost and its use as a basis for forecasting change in permafrost conditions.

    Polar climate change may lead to ecological change

    Science Daily, August 12, 2011. Ice and frozen ground at the North and South poles are affected by climate change-induced warming, but the consequences of thawing at each pole differ due to the geography and geology, according to a Penn State hydrologist.

    Reduction in areal extent of high-latitude wetlands in response to permafrost thaw

    C.A. Avis et al. Nature Geoscience (2011) 4(7):444-448. Wetlands take up and store carbon, and release carbon dioxide and methane through the decomposition of organic matter. More than 50% of wetlands are located in the high northern latitudes, where permafrost also prevails and exerts a strong control on wetland hydrology. Permafrost degradation is linked to changes in Arctic lakes. Here, the authors use a global climate model to examine the influence of permafrost thaw on the prevalence of high-latitude northern wetlands, under four emissions scenarios.

    Relevance of hydro-climatic change projection and monitoring for assessment of water cycle changes in the Arctic

    A. Bring, G. Destouni. Ambio (2011) 40(4):361-369. Process-based hydrological modeling and observations, which can resolve changes in evapotranspiration, and groundwater and permafrost storage at and below river basin scales, are needed in order to accurately interpret and translate climate-driven precipitation changes to changes in freshwater cycling and runoff.

    Satellite remote sensing classification of thaw lakes and drained thaw lake basins on the North Slope of Alaska

    R.C. Frohn et al. Remote Sensing of Environment (2005) 97(1):116-126. Continued research in the analysis of thaw lakes and drained thaw lake basins (DTLBs) is crucial to our understanding of the global carbon cycle, atmospheric methane concentrations, heat flow, and climate change.

    Scientist measures an overlooked greenhouse gas

    NPR's "All Things Considered," September 10, 2007. As global temperatures rise, permafrost thaws. Ponds and lakes form in the depressions left behind by melting chunks of ice in the ground. In the bottoms of ponds and lakes, bacteria feed on the carbon that previously had been frozen underground and burp it out as methane. Scientist Katey Walter, who teaches at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, says that methane is being released from lakes in the far north—Alaska, Siberia, and elsewhere—at a far greater rate than anyone has estimated.

    Siberia losing lakes at alarming rate

    NPR's "All Things Considered," June 2, 2005. A new study finds that more than 1,000 lakes in the Arctic region of Siberia have disappeared or shrunk dramatically over the past 30 years. The region has been getting markedly warmer. Human activities are thought to be partly responsible.

    Soil science: Arctic thaw

    H.F. Jungkunst. Nature Geoscience (2010) 3(5):306-307. The organic matter stored in frozen Arctic soils could release significant quantities of carbon dioxide and methane on thawing. Now, laboratory experiments show that re-wetting of previously thawed permafrost could increase nitrous oxide production by 20-fold.

    Soil science: The Arctic carbon count

    C. Beer. Nature Geoscience (2008) 1(9):569-570. Despite its potential importance in a warming world, the organic carbon content of Arctic soils has escaped robust quantification. A closer look at the North American sector suggests that much more carbon is stored in these high northern grounds than previously thought.

    Storage and mineralization of carbon and nitrogen in soils of a frost-boil tundra ecosystem in Siberia

    C. Kaiser et al. Applied Soil Ecology (2005) 29(2):173-183. This study examines the carbon and nitrogen stocks of soils and vegetation in different frost-boil tundra microsites (rims, troughs, and bare soil patches) and aims at elucidating differences in controls of organic matter turnover. Decomposition of organic material in rims is controlled mainly by N availability, while the main factor constraining decomposition in troughs may be unfavorable hydrothermal conditions. This may lead to differential responses of frost-boil tundra microsites to changing climatic conditions.

    The big thaw

    Popular Science online, February 2, 2009. The Arctic's permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere. As global temperatures rise, the frozen ground is melting fast and releasing greenhouse gases.

    The effect of fire and permafrost interactions on soil carbon accumulation in an upland black spruce ecosystem of Interior Alaska: Implications for post-thaw carbon loss

    J.A. O'Donnell et al. Global Change Biology (2011) 17(3):1461-1474. The authors examined how interactions between fire and permafrost govern rates of soil organic carbon accumulation in organic horizons, mineral soil of the active layer, and near-surface permafrost in a black spruce ecosystem of Interior Alaska.

    The effect of permafrost thaw on old carbon release and net carbon exchange from tundra

    E.A.G. Schuur et al. Nature (2009) 459:556-559. Permafrost soils in boreal and Arctic ecosystems store almost twice as much carbon as is currently present in the atmosphere. Permafrost thaw and the microbial decomposition of previously frozen organic carbon is considered one of the most likely positive climate feedbacks from terrestrial ecosystems to the atmosphere in a warmer world.

    The recent warming of permafrost in Alaska

    T.E. Osterkamp. Global and Planetary Change (2005) 49(3-4):187-202. Permafrost observatories with boreholes were established along a north-south transect of Alaska in undisturbed permafrost terrain. This paper provides analysis and interpretation of annual temperature measurements in the boreholes and daily temperature measurements of the air, ground, and permafrost surfaces.

    Transient thermal effects in alpine permafrost

    J. Noetzli, S. Gruber. The Cryosphere (2008) 2(2):185-224. This paper presents a systematic investigation of effects of climate variability and topography that are important for subsurface temperatures in Alpine permafrost areas. The effects of both past and projected future ground surface temperature variations on the thermal state of Alpine permafrost are studied based on numerical experimentation with simplified mountain topography.

    Understanding methane's seabed escape

    Science Daily, September 20, 2011. A shipboard expedition off Norway, to determine how methane escapes from beneath the Arctic seabed, has discovered widespread pockets of the gas and numerous channels that allow it to reach the seafloor.

    Using radiocarbon to detect change in ecosystem carbon cycling in response to permafrost thawing

    E.A.G. Schuur et al. Alaska Park Science (2007) 6(2):34-36. There are more than 450 billion tons of carbon frozen in permafrost in high-latitude ecosystems. This carbon is now subject to release into the atmosphere due to climate warming and permafrost thawing. Radiocarbon measurements of ecosystem carbon losses provide the means to measure whether old carbon is released in response to permafrost thawing. (PDF, 96 KB)

    Variability in greenhouse gas emissions from permafrost thaw ponds

    I. Laurion et al. Limnology and Oceanography (2010) 55(1):115-133. Arctic climate change is leading to accelerated melting of permafrost and the mobilization of soil organic carbon pools that have accumulated over thousands of years. The results of this study underscore the increasingly important contribution of permafrost thaw ponds to greenhouse gas emissions and the need to account for local and regional variability in their limnological properties for global estimates.

    Washing away the Arctic coastline

    NPR's "The Picture Show," April 19, 2011. Two-thirds of the Arctic coastline is made of permafrost—an environment that is very sensitive to warming temperatures. A new report says erosion is causing these coastline regions to recede by an average of 1.5 feet per year.

    Water and heat transport in boreal soils: Implications for soil response to climate change

    Z. Fan et al. Science of the Total Environment (2011) 409(10):1836-1842. Soil water content strongly affects permafrost dynamics by changing the soil thermal properties. However, the movement of liquid water, which plays an important role in the heat transport of temperate soils, has been under-represented in boreal studies. Two different heat transport models with and without convective heat transport were compared to measurements of soil temperatures in four boreal sites with different stand ages and drainage classes.

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