Study finds low risk that arctic tundra melt methane will add to global warming

If the science is right, here’s some good news on the climate change front. A downloadable open source scientific paper concludes that permafrost melting in arctic places will not increase methane (CH4) emissions enough to add to further global warming.

There has been a widespread anxiety that as permanently frozen tundra peat and soil thaw as a result of global warming, this would create a climate change feedback loop from increased methane emissions. This is because the carbon from decayed plants that is locked up in the frozen tundra will turn into methane as the tundra melts – and methane has far stronger greenhouse gas effects than carbon dioxide.

Melting permafrost - creative commons photo from Dispatches from Polar Scientists

But the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA and three other environmental and climate change research organisations in the USA have used an integrated earth-system model framework to analyse the effects of melting tundra on methane emissions and concluded that,

“the biogeochemical global climate-warming feedback from increased CH4 emissions due to thawed, inundated area warming and expansion is relatively small, whether or not humans choose to constrain global emissions.”


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