Permafrost in the Arctic could be thawing out decades faster than previous estimates guessed, according to a new report published in National Geographic. That news is cause for concern on many levels. Not only does it suggest that current timelines and future predictions are off, but the melting will likely release tons of trapped greenhouse gases and further accelerate climate change.
To make this discovery, a group of researchers working 200 miles north of the Arctic circle found patches of land that did not freeze over during the winter like they normally would. Rather, the regions remained thawed out all year.
To investigate that, the group of international scientists dug a few feet into the ground and found that the land — which is normally permafrost — had turned into a mud-like slush.
Under normal conditions the permafrost in the coldest parts of the world stays frozen all year down to depths of hundreds of feet. In fact, some regions have remained frozen for thousands and thousands of years.
Though there is a chance that high snowfall could have trapped heat in the ground, the team believes that it is more a sign of shifting seasonal patterns, Slash Gear reports. “For all years before 2014, the complete freeze-up of the active layer would happen in mid-January,” said researcher Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost expert at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “Since 2014, the freeze-up date has shifted to late February and even March.”
The new findings show that climate change, while already problematic, may be far beyond what many scientists estimate. That could then make it so that the entire process is too far along to slow down.
Thawing permafrost is particularly worrisome because it holds more than double the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. Releasing more carbon into the air would fuel global warming and melt the ice caps even faster. Though more research is needed before any claims can be made around the study, the team plans to further explore the evidence in the coming years.