NASA is continuing a multi-year study which, so far, is demonstrating that Arctic permafrost is warming more rapidly than the air. In a release this week the situation in the Arctic is referred to as the “canary in the coal mine” for climate change.
The extreme conditions in the Arctic prevent decomposition of most plant and animal material. Each year there is a partial thaw which allows vegetation to grow, which then dies and is added to the permafrost when the colder weather returns. The result is thousands of years of stored organic material. The report notes:
“…Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon – an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable topsoils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.”