Carbon in the News

People hear about carbon in the news all the time. Mostly about emissions, and laws, and climate change. I wanted to know if there was anything specific about the tundra environment in a popular news source, since I am writing my research proposal on permafrost soils for Topics in Life Science. I’ve been reading a lot of research, but I wanted to know if there was any way for someone to hear about the changes in the tundra if they were not researching it. I found an article from the NY Daily News, “Alaska Permafrost Melt Creates Climate-Change Challenges — and ‘Thawing’ Disagreements.” Alaska has experienced permafrost melting, and homeowners are seeing their houses sink, roads are cracked, and erosion. This article was a good overview, and stated that permafrost melt was caused by rising temperatures, but they didn’t link this change to carbon emissions. USA Today’s “Alaska Sinks as Climate Change Thaws Permafrost” did a much better job of relating the thaw to greenhouse gasses. Their story highlights include “This thawing emits vast amounts of heat-trapping carbon and methane.” The article also points out that scientists don’t really know how much carbon is stored in the permafrost soils. In my research for Life Science, lots of people are doing research to see how soil temperature and moisture affect the amount of carbon stored in permafrost soils and rates of respiration and decomposition. It’s important to remember that permafrost soils are very moist, but that moisture is just frozen. By melting it, you’re kind of changing the frozen soil into a vertisol, and it will shrink and swell. I found that Subin et. al has done experiments using Community Land Model 4 (CLM4) and Community Climate System Model 4 (CCSM4) to create model experiments. Subin et. al found that there are implications for soil carbon feedbacks, and that more CO2 can increase soil carbon mineralization, or create more anoxic conditions, and lead to more emissions of CO2, CH4 and N2O from permafrost soils. There results are general though, because they are from a program and not from sampling and testing. Before looking up this problem in the news, I didn’t know Alaska was dealing with permafrost melt, as much of what I found on SciVerse/Science Direct and Academic Search Complete was about the Tibetan Plateau and the permafrost soils there. So now I want to look into what’s happening in Alaska! I think the risk of permafrost melt is greater in Alaska than in the Tibetan Plateau due to the amount of people that live there and all the oil pipelines that will be sensitive to ground changes (in elevation). What do you guys think?

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Erosion due to permafrost melt, from NY Daily News.

Subin, Zachary M.; Koven, Charles D.; Riley, William J.; Torn, Margaret S.; Lawrence, David M.; Swenson, Sean C. (2013). Effects of Soil Moisture on the Responses of Soil Temperatures to Climate Change in Cold Regions. Journal of Climate, Vol. 26, pg. (3139-3158).

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2 responses to “Carbon in the News”

  1. mckennast says :

    It seems that Alaska is one of the places where we see greater effect of temperature change because of its location. This is pretty serious since there are people inhabiting the area. How many times are they going to repair the roads and houses? Should they just leave? Is there any way to fix this?
    The article from USA today was really interesting. It seems like we are falling deeper and deeper into a hole that we will not be able to get out of. An endless loop of melting ice and released carbon and other greenhouse gases which will heat the Earth more and melt more ice, etc. How can we repair these natural carbon emissions? (Natural as in they do not come directly from anthropogenic activities, although they are a result of such).

    I think that you may be on to something when you say Alaska is at a greater risk for permafrost melt at higher rates. However, I would need to see the magnitude of ice in each place. Are we talking percentages or amounts at this point? How much permafrost in Alaska is at risk and how much at the plateau? I think the fact that humans are living in the Alaska area and the push to drill for more oil in Alaska will definitely affect these numbers. People seem to be so obsessed with drilling for oil in Alaska because it will sustain us and we will not have to depend on foreign oil. But what does this really fix? and for how long? It’s only a matter of time before we run out. And we are doing so much harm in the process of using it.

    Maybe we humans are not able to think about the future as well as we would like.

  2. carbonconnections says :

    This is definitely a hot topic among biogeochemists and soil scientists. It is also a great link between soil and carbon sciences. As permafrost thawing increases it will be more and more important for them to develop more accurate estimates of the impact the thawing is having on the carbon cycle. Just one more complication in global change modeling for scientists to take into account.

    I was aware that the thawing of permafrost soils was releasing carbon and methane, but never thought of the changing landscape impact you have presented here.

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