2022-2024 Articles

Most Earth System Models Are Missing Permafrost, a Key Part of Climate Change 0124

Greater Snowfall Speeds the Melting of Arctic Tundra 0823 - It insulates the permafrost underneath it from the very cold air of winter, so that the permafrost thaws earlier or deeper in the warmer seasons.

Reeling Arctic Glaciers Are Leaving Bubbling Methane in Their Wake 0723

Scientists Now Know Why Methane Mysteriously Surged during Lockdowns 0223

Rapid Thawing of World’s Permafrost Is a Big Climate Change Problem 1222

How the Climate Crisis Is Transforming the Arctic Permafrost 1122

‘Imminent’ Tipping Point Threatens Europe’s Permafrost Peatlands 0322 - Shrinking permafrost area, 4 emission scenarios: RCP 2.6, 4.5, 7.0 and 8.5.  Higher RCPs are higher emission scenarios, 2.0 is the lowest modelled.  On the maps, blue is more permafrost than tan or gray.  As emissions increase, permafrost becomes less widespread, or patchier.

The Great Siberian Thaw 0122 - In-depth history and analysis

2020-2021 Articles

Across the Boreal Forest, Scientists Are Tracking Warming’s Toll 0122

Fire and Ice - Permafrost 1221

Arctic Ground ‘Literally Collapsing’ amid Abrupt Thaw 1021

U.N. Weather Agency Says World Ill-Prepared for Looming Water Crisis 1021

Scientists Expected Thawing Wetlands in Siberia’s Permafrost. What They Found Is ‘Much More Dangerous.’ 0821

Thawing Permafrost Prompts Denali National Park to Reimagine Its Future 0721

Fighting Feedback Loop, Scientists Sound Alarm on Canada’s Permafrost Thaw 0421

Why Drilling the Arctic Refuge Will Release a Double Dose of Carbon 0221

We’re 60 Years Too Late to Stop Global Warming, Sea Level Rises 1120 - a "cycle of self-sustained melting of the permafrost." 
    "The effect of surface albedo continues on its smooth upward path throughout this period....  It has enough momentum to push the climate system back onto a path of rising temperatures, with its secondary effects of raising humidity and permafrost melting, which then in turn help the system become warmer and warmer, even if man-made GHG emissions are zero."

Climate Scientists Show Limits in ‘Point of No Return’ Paper That’s Freaking People Out 1120

'Past Point of No Return' - Cutting Emissions to Zero Won't Stop Global Warming 1120

2°C Warming Would Release Billions of Tons of Soil Carbon 1120

Wildfires Trigger Long-Term Permafrost Thawing 0820

More Rain in the North from Climate Change Is Bad News for Permafrost 0820

Heavy Summer Rains Speed Permafrost Thaw 0820

Rapid Arctic Meltdown in Siberia Alarms Scientists 0720

Releasing Herds of Animals into the Arctic Could Delay Permafrost Thawing 0420

Arctic Permafrost Cauldron 0918 - Much of the carbon emitted is really old, many thousands, even millions of years.

2014-2018 Articles

Melting Permafrost Could Hasten Exceeding 1.5 and 2°C Warming Targets 0918

Coastal Erosion in the Arctic Intensifies Global Warming 0918

Alaskan Permafrost Flipped from Carbon Sink to Carbon Source 0618

Some Arctic Ground Is No Longer Freezing – in Winter 0818

The Arctic’s Carbon Bomb Might Be Even More Potent than We Thought 0318

Ancient Carbon Coming from Arctic Soil Might Be Fine, Might Be Terrible 0318

Is There a Ticking Time Bomb under the Arctic? 0118

Unearthing the Secrets of Soil 1117

Giant Craters in Canada's Melting Permafrost Impacting Climate Change 0817

Alaska’s Permafrost Is Thawing 0817

Methane Seeps Out as Arctic Permafrost Starts to Resemble Swiss Cheese 0717

Arctic Stronghold of World’s Seeds Flooded after Permafrost Melts 0517

Thawing Alaska Permafrost Sends Autumn CO2 Emissions Surging 0517

Permafrost Thaw in Canadian Arctic Is Sign of Global Trend 0417

Global Warming Could Thaw Far More Permafrost Than Expected 0417 - unfrozen area increases a lot

Siberia's Growing 'Doorway to Hell' Offers Clues on Climate Change 0317

Massive Permafrost Thaw in Canada Portends Huge Carbon Release 0217

Arctic Soils Set to Release Lots of Carbon, More than Plants Can Absorb 1216

'It's a Lit Fuse -' Release of Ancient Carbon from Melting Permafrost Measured 0816

Forest Fires Can Heat Up the Whole Planet 0616 - Northern (boreal) forest fires put carbon in the air not only from standing trees, but also from peat, while they thaw permafrost, for still more carbon emissions.

Permafrost Soil under North Slope Lakes Is about to Thaw 0616

New ‘Gateway to the Underworld’ Crater in Siberia Warns of Warming Planet 0616

We Could Be Underestimating Arctic Methane Emissions 1215

Here’s How Much of Alaska’s Permafrost Could Melt 1215

Runaway Global Warming Becomes a Concern, as Permafrost Melts 1115

Permafrost Warming in Parts of Alaska ‘Is Accelerating' 1015

Permafrost Methane Release Could Trigger Dangerous Global Warming 1015

Massive Wildfires by Lake Baikal Send Soot to Arctic, Greenland 0815  Thawed permafrost burns, sending CO2 into the air.

Alaska's Permafrost Threatened by Intense Fires as Climate Changes 0815

Beneath Alaskan Wildfires, a Hidden Threat- Long-Frozen Carbon's Thaw 0715

Thawing Arctic Carbon Threatens ‘Runaway' Global Warming 0515

Obama Presents Climate Change as Hazard to Your Health 0415

Microbes Play Villainous Role in Arctic Climate Change 0415

Thawing Arctic Soils May Release 10 x the Carbon That Burning Fossil Fuels Did 0415

Permafrost Holds Key to Release of Trapped Carbon 0415

Scientists Confirm Arctic Could Become Major New Carbon Emissions Source 0415

Russian Scientists Blame Climate Change for Mysterious Siberia Craters 0315

Siberian Crater Saga Is More Widespread and Scarier Than Anyone Thought 0215

Climate Change Is Accelerating the Melting of Siberia 0215

Siberian Methane Release is on the Rise 1214

Melting Permafrost Threatens Infrastructure, Homes 1214

Tracking the Fate of Ancient Carbon in the Siberian Arctic 1114

Permafrost Carbon Emissions Measured - a Whole Other Problem 1014

Melting Permafrost May Stabilize Global Long-Term Temperatures 0714

Arctic Methane Emissions ‘Certain to Trigger Warming’ 0514

How Taking the 'Perma' Out of Permafrost Could Accelerate Global Warming 0414

Siberian Methane Release is on the Rise 1214

Melting Permafrost Threatens Infrastructure, Homes 1214

Tracking the Fate of Ancient Carbon in the Siberian Arctic 1114

Permafrost Carbon Emissions Measured - a Whole Other Problem 1014

Melting Permafrost May Stabilize Global Long-Term Temperatures 0714

Arctic Methane Emissions ‘Certain to Trigger Warming’ 0514

How Taking the 'Perma' Out of Permafrost Could Accelerate Global Warming 0414

Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost - UN, Schaefer 0413.pdf

     About 24% of Northern Hemisphere land surface was covered by permafrost in 1997.  See north polar-view map at left.  Soil carbon content tends to be greater toward the poles, where permafrost is most prevalent (and probably deeper).

     Permafrost regions contain 1,700-1,900 trillion tonnes of carbon (to 1 meter deep), in the form of frozen organic matter, nearly 2 x that currently in the atmosphere (Tarnocai et al. 2009, updated by Hugelius et al. 2012).

     This model projection indicates a 59% loss in near-surface permafrost area by 2100 for the IPCC A1B scenario.  The dark grey regions show where taliks may form and permafrost in the top 15 meters of soil may completely thaw (Schaefer et al. 2011).

CO2 and methane (CH4) emissions from thawing permafrost can continue for decades or even centuries, as seen in this plot of estimated annual permafrost emissions in CO2 equivalent for the IPCC A1B scenario.  Here, anthropogenic emissions stop in 2100, but permafrost CO2 and methane emissions continue well past 2200 (Schaefer et al. 2011).

     Peak permafrost emissions are ~9% of today's human emissions (33 Gt/yr).

IPCC 5th Assessment, Technical Summary

Northern Hemisphere total

from US National Climate Assessment, 2013

     Projection for average yearly ground temperature at 3.3-foot (1-meter) depth over time, if heat-trapping gases continue to grow (higher A2 emissions scenario), and if they are substantially reduced (lower B1 emissions scenario).

     Blue shades represent areas below freezing (where permafrost is present at the surface), while yellow and red shades represent areas above freezing (permafrost-free at the surface) (Markon et al. 2012).

Permafrost: MacDougall

MacDougall Permafrost Carbon Emissions to 2300 0912.pdf

Changes in the size of each Earth system carbon pool in response to the addition of permafrost carbon to the UVic ESCM.  That is, the difference in the size of each carbon pool between simulations with and without permafrost carbon.  All values are relative to the size of the frozen permafrost carbon pool.  A summation of all the pools adds up to 100% for each year.  Results are given for two emissions pathways (DEPs 4.5 and 8.5) and for 3 climate sensitivities to a doubling of CO2 (2.0, 3.0, and 4.5°C).  Soil layers that thaw, but are subsequently returned to a permafrost state, continue to be administered by the active soil carbon pool, leading to the apparent high rate of transfer of carbon to the active soil carbon pool in the 20th century.

     Permafrost (not including whatever is under the ice in Greenland and Antarctica) holds about twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does today.  In the worst case shown, if current net carbon sinks fail, atmospheric CO2 levels could double from permafrost alone.  Then add the effect of human carbon emissions.

     Strangely enough, the additional temperature effect of permafrost emissions is not highest in the highest human emission scenario (DEP 8.5), but in the intermediate scenarios.  The simplest reason is that CO2 in the air warms the air at a diminishing rate; with more CO2 molecules in the air, the chances are higher that one at a lower altitude will intercept outgoing radiation before one at a higher altitude gets a chance.

Permafrost Carbon Emissions, Supplement - MacDougall 0912 - PDF

Graphs of modeled future permafrost extent

       Anomaly in CO2 concentration with respect to baseline runs with no permafrost carbon, for each DEP.  Which climate sensitivity is assumed in not clear.

2013 Articles and earlier

Alaska Sinks, as Climate Change Thaws Permafrost 1213

Warming Spike - Siberian Stalagmites Show Permafrost Peril 0613

Arctic Thawing Detection Tool - Stanford 0213

Thawing Permafrost May Be Huge Emissions Source 0213

Survey of Permafrost Thaw & Carbon Release 0213 - PDF

Slumping Arctic Soils Emit Significant CO2 0213

Siberian Permafrost Thaw Warning from Paleo Cave Data 0213

Thawing Permafrost to Double Carbon in Air 0113

How Much Carbon Is Released into the Atmosphere by Thawing Permafrost 0113

Ticking Arctic Carbon Bomb May Be Bigger Than Thought 1212

Climate Downgrade- Planetary Feedbacks 1112Climate Downgrade- Planetary Feedbacks 1112

UN Fears Permafrost Thaw Means Runaway Warming 1112 

At the Edge of Disaster 1112

2012 Swedish Plots - Hartley 1112  - PDF

     This complements and discusses Kane's study, in the same edition of Nature Climate Change.

Permafrost Carbon to Emit Up to 508 Billion Tons of Carbon by 2100, Warm Earth 1.69°C 0912

Antarctic May Host Methane Stores 0812

Permafrost Emissions to Accelerate Warming

Beyond Previous Projections 1211

Methane Releases Could Push Earth Past

Tipping Point by 2030 0711

Siberian Tundra Methane Time Bomb 1110

Arctic Permafrost Methane Releases

Set Records 0310

Permafrost Methane Emissions Up 31% 0110

Peat Under the Icy North 1209

Peat CO2 Emissions & Credits 1109  

Warming Speeds Tundra Carbon Release 0809 

Permafrost Thawing Grows 0709 

Carbon in Permafrost 4x Cum

Emissions - Tamocai 0709 - PDF

Permafrost Thaw CH4 Release Complex 0509

Arctic Meltdown Poses Global Threat 0309  

Carbon in Permafrost 0307 

Permafrost Methane Release Accelerated 0906

Squeezing the Carbon Balloon - Kane 1112 - PDF - for 2 adjacent plots in northern Sweden

     The tundra-heath stores about 7.1 kilograms of carbon per square meter (6.2+0.8), while the birch forest stores about 4.6 kg (2.1+2.5) of carbon / sq m.  The tundra-heath plot is on same hillside as the birch forest, 4 kilometers southeast and 190 meters higher.

     As tundra systems give way to birch forest, more ecosystem carbon is in aboveground pools, but with a net loss of total ecosystem carbon.  Below-ground carbon pools dwarf above-ground pools, especially if one considers carbon deeper in the soil….

PETM Permafrost

Thawing Permafrost Led to Extreme Global Warming 0412 - summary of study below

Antarctic Permafrost Drove PETM - DeConto 0412 - PDF

     "Between about 55.5 and 52 million years ago, Earth experienced a series of sudden and extreme warming events (hyperthermals) superimposed on a long-term warming trend.  The first and largest of these events ... (PETM) is characterized by a massive input of carbon, ocean acidification and an increase in global temperatue of about 5°C within a few thousand years."
    "...the magnitude and timing of the PETM and subsequent hyperthermals can be explained by the orbitally triggered decomposition of soil organic carbon in circum-Arctic and Antarctic terrestrial permafrost.  This massive carbon reservoir had the potential to repeatedly release thousands of [billions of tonnes] of carbon to the atmosphere-ocean system, once a … threshold had been reached...."

    "These results show the potential for high-latitude climate forcing to trigger massive terrestrial carbon release, initiating positive warming feedbacks that can account for the sudden and high elevations of past hyperthermals."

(Xerophytic plants, such as cactus, are adapted to live with very little water.)

     At 400 ppm (not shown), global mean surface temperature is ~14.6°C, about the same as today.  At 900 ppm CO2 (top & middle 4 panels of 6), global mean surface temperature is 6°C warmer than today and Antarctic summers are too warm to allow glaciation.  But ~9/10 as much permafrost remains in high latitudes of both hemispheres (top panel, not middle) as in Earth's total modern inventory, NOT counting modern Greenland and Antarctica, where most permafrost was then.
    In the model, the warming-permafrost positive feedback loop eliminates 97-98% of the initial permafrost inventory (bottom 2 panels), releasing ~3,400 billion tons af carbon within 10,000 years [~10 times what humans have released from fossil fuels].  This raises global mean surface temperature another 6°C, leaving 2,680 ppm of CO2 in the air (see bottom left panel).

     In the bottom panel, which features 2,680 ppm CO2 and is ~12°C warmer than today, dry vegetation types (scrub and cactus) cover most of Africa (replacing much savanna), South America (replacing savanna and tropical deciduous woodland), and Southeast Asia (replacing tropical broadleaf forest).  Warm and temperate deciduous and mixed deciduous-conifer forests cover much of Antarctica and most of Siberia and Canada, replacing most cold conifer forests.

Permafrost + Methane Hydrates (Jointly)

Section Map: Carbon Emissions