New measurements from Northern Sweden suggest methane emission hype overrated

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Swedish permafrost [image credit: International Permafrost Association]

Another attempted climate scare gets dented. In short, nature takes care of it.
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It is widely understood that thawing permafrost can lead to significant amounts of methane being released, says Phys.org.

However, new research shows that in some areas, this release of methane could be a tenth of the amount predicted from a thaw.

The research was conducted in Sweden by an international group that includes researchers from the University of Copenhagen.

A crucial, yet an open question is how much precipitation the future will bring.

Permafrost runs like a frozen belt of soil and sediment around Earth’s northern arctic and sub-arctic tundra. As permafrost thaws, microorganisms are able to break down thousands of years-old accumulations of organic matter. This process releases a number of greenhouse gases. One of the most critical gasses is methane; the same gas emitted by cattle whenever they burp and fart.

In a comprehensive new study by a collaborative from the University of Gothenburg, Ecole Polytechnique in France and the Center for Permafrost (CENPERM) at the University of Copenhagen, researchers measured the release of methane from two localities in Northern Sweden. Permafrost disappeared from one of the locations in the 1980s, and 10 to 15 years later in the other.

The difference between the two areas shows what can happen as a landscape gradually adapts to the absence of permafrost. The results show that the first area to lose its permafrost now has methane emissions ten times less than in the other locality.

This is due to gradual changes in drainage and the spread of new plant species. The study’s findings were recently published in the journal Global Change Biology.

Because of this, scientists and public agencies have long feared methane emissions from permafrost to rise in step with global temperatures. But, in some places, it turns out that methane emissions are lower than once presumed.

“The study has shown that there isn’t necessarily a large burst of methane as might have been expected in the wake of a thaw. Indeed, in areas with sporadic permafrost, far less methane might be released than expected,” says Professor Bo Elberling of CENPERM (Center for Permafrost), at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management.

Full article here.


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Research article: 

Reduced methane emissions in former permafrost soils driven by vegetation and microbial changes following drainage

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May 24, 2022