Permafrost may not thaw during global warming

Climate change scientists have warned for years that one of the potential consequences of a warmer world is the deep thawing of the permafrost. This would release potentially dangerous quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, as vegetation, bones and other organic material, long locked up in the deep freezer that is the permafrost, decompose.

In yet another contradictory twist in the ever-changing science of climate change, a study published in Science suggests that the impact of warming on the permafrost may not be as bad as forecast. Analysis of ice wedges in permafrost have provided evidence that the ice survived through several warming periods, including the last major one, 120,000 years ago.

“The general view is that everything would have melted out back then,” Dr. Froese said. The new finding suggests that wasn’t the case, and that models of future melting need to be rethought.

“But I don’t want people to think we don’t have to worry about global climate change,” Dr. Froese said. The top couple of yards of permafrost are still likely to melt as temperatures warm, and there’s plenty of carbon stored in them.

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