Scientists In Alaska Find Mammoth Amounts Of Carbon In The Warming Permafrost:
No one knows how great the effect is but it could be felt around the world, and there is evidence that the clock is ticking. For the first time in centuries, the Arctic permafrost is rapidly warming.
In northern Alaska, the temperature at some permafrost sites has risen by more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1980s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in November. And in recent years, many spots have reached record temperatures.
It shows no signs of returning to a reliably frozen state. And the consequences of the thaw could be disastrous. First of all, there is the release of the massive amounts of carbonaceous material frozen in the permafrost, twice as much as all the carbon humans have spewed into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, could vastly accelerate climate change.
“We have evidence that Alaska has changed from being a net absorber of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to a net exporter of the gas back to the atmosphere,” says Charles Miller, a chemist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who measures gas emissions from Arctic permafrost.
It’ll be a feedback loop — warming stimulating CO2 release which in turn stimulates further warming, stimulating further CO2 release etc. — over which we would have no control.
Secondly, long-frozen ‘zombie’ pathogens may be waiting to rise and infect us as the permafrost thaws:
‘In the past few years, there has been a growing fear about a possible consequence of climate change: zombie pathogens. Specifically, bacteria and viruses — preserved for centuries in frozen ground — coming back to life as the Arctic’s permafrost starts to thaw.
The idea resurfaced in the summer of 2016, when a large anthrax outbreak struck Siberia.
A heat wave in the Arctic thawed a thick layer of the permafrost, and a bunch of reindeer carcasses started to warm up. The animals had died of anthrax, and as their bodies thawed, so did the bacteria. Anthrax spores spread across the tundra. Dozens of people were hospitalized, and a 12-year-old boy died.
On the surface, it looked as if zombie anthrax had somehow come back to life after being frozen for 70 years. What pathogen would be next? Smallpox? The 1918 flu?…’
(as seen in the recent British TV series Fortitude, set in Svalbard.).