Woodwell Climate Research Center | Arctic Permafrost Emissions Assessment

The Arctic permafrost paper led by Woods Hole Research Center is now underway, presenting the first ever compilation of expected emissions from arctic tundra across three processes -- gradual, abrupt, and fire. This will inform biosphere feedback assumptions for global carbon budgets used by climate modelers. 

Permafrost (frozen soil) stores a vast amount of ancient carbon that threatens to exacerbate global warming through decomposition of organic matter and release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost may contribute substantially to global climate change, but these carbon emissions are generally omitted from Earth System Models (ESMs) that embody the latest quantified scientific understanding of global carbon cycling and climate feedbacks, including those that informed the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports. Further, when permafrost thaw has been included in models, critical processes that can greatly accelerate carbon emissions—namely abrupt thaw and wildfire—are not considered. These omissions threaten international efforts to limit global temperature increase below 1.5°C or 2°C above pre-industrial levels. 

With support from One Earth, Woodwell Climate Research Center is compiling a comprehensive assessment of carbon emissions from the permafrost region which will link to policy outcomes through a targeted release of results for the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

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