Skip to content

☁️ "The Climate Wild Card: Permafrost"

The Carbon Copy

Photo by Osman Rana / Unsplash

Host: Stephen Lacey
Guest: Dr. Sue Natali | Climate Arctic Program Director | Woodwell Climate Research Center
Category: ☁️ Carbon | Permafrost

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[0:57] SL: “Permafrost - officially it's any ground that remains below zero degrees Celsius for more than two years. Essentially, it's the frozen layer of rocks, soil, ice, and partially decomposed plants, that underlies much of the land north of the Arctic Circle, in some areas further south. And it's what scientists call a carbon sink.”

[1:15] SN: “Permafrost stores a massive amount of carbon, it's about 1.5 trillion tons of carbon. So every tree and every forest on the planet, it's three times more carbon than that, that's stored in permafrost. And almost twice as much carbon is stored in permafrost than is in the atmosphere.”

[4:29] SN: “15% of the Northern Hemisphere land areas are underlain by permafrost, large areas of Russia, large areas of Canada, much of Alaska, federal Scandinavia.”

[6:41] SN: “Communities in the Arctic have been feeling the impacts of climate change for a long time now. It's warming at least three times faster than the rest of the planet […]. And there's a number of different things that are happening, one of them is permafrost thaw. […] When the ground thaws, if there's ice in the ground, which there often is, that ice then turns into water, and so you lose your structure. And so what often happens is you get ground collapse. […] People who live on permafrost raise their houses every year to keep them level. […] It’s impacting people's ability to travel across the landscape. […] It leads to more coastal erosion. […] It's also causing increased salting of water, and people rely on this water for their water source, local rivers, and ponds.”

[8:53] SN: “There's a lot of carbon in permafrost, and that carbon is currently frozen. It's been accumulating for tens of thousands of years, and it's essentially carbon that's been taken up by plants. […] It's just essentially the thousands of years of remnants of ancient plants and also animals. […] Now that it's frozen, its microbes now have access to it and they can break that carbon down, they use it as an energy source, and in the process release greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide, and methane.

[11:45] SN: “If you look around the imagery of the Arctic, you're not going to immediately see permafrost. […] But you can see forests so we can more easily see and measure and monitor carbon that's in a forest. So that's […] one reason why it's not accounted for. But I think the other reason is just this big uncertainty about what's happening with carbon cycling in the Arctic. […] And part of the reason for that uncertainty is, we have much more limited monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon cycling in the Arctic than we do in other areas and lower and lower latitudes in the continuous US. And even the work that's done in the Arctic, there are many areas that are gaps. […] Another challenge is that the Arctic isn't one country, it's multiple nations.”

[19:56] SN: “There's a range of possibilities for how much permafrost thaw will thaw by 2100. […] The range always stays somewhere between 30 to 70%. […] The 30% is actually if we take really ambitious climate action. […] We do nothing and continue as we are now, that's 70%. So 30% is bad, but I feel like 70% is so much worse. And so yes, this is bad news, but knowing about it and realizing […] we can stop some permafrost from thawing.”

Rating: ☁️☁️☁️☁️

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 22 min | 🗓️ 07/13/2022
✅ Time saved: 20 min