We have known for some time that the melting permafrost was going to be a huge problem. This is because the permafrost holds methane which is far more pernicious greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The release of methane will further accelerate the exponential rate of change in the release of greenhouse gases. It’s a very simple little feedback loop and it means climatic disaster
The problem with exponential change is that for a while you don’t notice it. Once you’ve noticed it, it’s often too late to stop it.
And this is why this report is so concerning.
Carbon dioxide and methane are indubitably the two most potent greenhouse gases. Vast reservoirs of both exist within the world’s permafrost, which is hydrated soil that has remained below the freezing point for two or more years. Remarkably, these permafrost soils hold almost twice as much carbon than that found in the atmosphere – and one study, published in Nature Geoscience, shows them thawing all across the northern hemisphere.
Thanks to consistently warmer summers, permafrost in Russia, Alaska and Canada is being “uncapped;” icy wedges that form at the top of the permafrost were observed to be almost universally melting even in the coldest regions of the Arctic. These wedges make up around 20 percent of the upper permafrost volume, so their melting is exposing massive areas of concealed, deeper permafrost.
The situation is a variation on the famous lily pad problem.
The lily pads on a lake double in size every year. By Year 10 the lake is completely covered.
(i) When is the lake half covered?
(ii) When is the best time to solve the problem?
The answer to the first question is: Year 9.
The answer to the second question is: Year 1 and if not then, immediately.