Permafrost melt may prompt microbes to release 40 BILLION more tons of CO2 into the atmosphere than previously thought, new study says
- The study assess the effects of microbes that feed on plant-produced carbon
- Permafrost melt and warmer temperatures will fuel plant life
- Increased plant life will cause microbes to respire more CO2
- This will add 40 billion more tons of CO2 to the atmosphere than projected
- Already, permafrost melt is projected to release 50 to 100 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere
New estimates are painting a worrisome picture on how much melting permafrost will influence global CO2 levels.
A new study published in Nature Geoscience from researchers at Umea University says continued permafrost melt will accelerate a process called rhizosphere priming which was previously unaccounted for in calculating the effects of permafrost loss on rising CO2 levels.
Rhizosphere priming is a change in the decomposition rates of organic matter in soil, such as carbon or nitrogen, and is caused by plant root activity
Average temperatures in Arctic Siberia were more than 5°C above normal for June, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. A new study has found Siberia’s recent heatwave was made 600 times more likely due to human-caused climate change
Warmer temperatures in Arctic regions will lead to more plant life and therefore increase the number of microbes that feed on the carbon emitted by plant roots, the study says.
Those microbes also give off CO2 since they respire to live and according to the study, with the influence of added permafrost melt, will increase microbe respiration by as much as 12 percent.
That, say the researchers, translates to an additional 40 million tons of CO2 over the next 80 years.
Already thawing permafrost is estimated to release between 50 to 100 billion tons of CO2 over the next 80 years independent of the 40 billion ton estimate being projected by researchers.
The study outlines a kind of dangerous feedback loop in which warmer temperatures and permafrost melt lead to more roots for microbes to feed off of, increasing the carbon emissions and fueling warmer temperatures.
A heat wave in Siberia lead to a surge in wildfires (pictured) which are pouring millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further amplifying the effect of climate change
‘These new findings demonstrate how important it is to consider small-scale ecological interactions, such as the priming effect, in global greenhouse gas emission modeling,’ Birgit Wild, Assistant Professor at Stockholm University. said in a statement.
The findings also come with particularly harrowing timing as a record-breaking heat wave in Siberia, where temperatures have reached 100-degrees Fahrenheit, has accelerated permafrost melt.
Temperatures have also driven wildfires across the region which were three times larger than normal in April.