Arctic permafrost may be thawing decades sooner than expected, according to a new report, releasing trapped greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change. The startling discovery was recently made by researchers working 200 miles north of the Arctic circle in Russia, where they found patches of land the remained thawed throughout the winter.
The discovery was reported by National Geographic, which says the thawing was first noticed by Nikita Zimov, who was teaching ecology to students in northern Siberia. The clues resulted in a team of workers drilling into the Arctic land to depths of a few feet. Researchers discovered the land — which is typically permafrost beneath the sod in late spring — was “slushy mud,” according to NatGeo.
The permafrost in the coldest parts of the world stay frozen all year to depths of hundreds of feet, in some places the permafrost having persisted for millennia. Zimov points toward atypically high snowfall that may have trapped heat in the ground, leading to the thawed permafrost — in some cases, the permafrost was thawed to depths of as much as 30-inches.
National Geographic reports that other researchers have taken measurements that support the discovery, highlighting a very important question — whether the permafrost is thawing far sooner than experts had expected. Human activities have fueled climate change, resulting in a warming planet.
Thawing permafrost would accelerate this climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, where heat is trapped, increasing temperatures. Earth’s permafrost holds more than double the carbon currently present in the atmosphere. Though the findings are concerning, some scientists warn that more data is needed.