Scientists at Florida State University are researching the fate of carbon released from during the thawing of long frozen permafrost soils in the arctic. According to their Geophysical Research Letter published this week, microorganisms are rapidly consuming the ancient carbon released from the permafrost, metabolizing it into carbon dioxide, and releasing it back into the environment. A dangerous cycle is underway whereby the regions of the Earth where permafrost is found continue to warm due to climate change and release more carbon which makes its way to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide via microorganisms and further contributes to climate change.
“When you have a huge frozen store of carbon and it’s thawing, we have some big questions,” said Robert Spencer, assistant professor of oceanography at Florida State. “The primary question is when it thaws, what happens to it? Our research shows this ancient carbon is rapidly utilized by microbes and transferred to the atmosphere, leading to further warming.
Spencer’s research provides an answer to a long-standing discrepancy. Scientists proved years ago that permafrost was thawing and releasing carbon but no evidence of that carbon was ever found in the mouths of major rivers in the Arctic. Spencer and his team collected hundreds of water samples throughout Siberia, analyzing carbon sources in each. Based on the data, unique compositional features of the carbon make it very attractive to microorganisms and so they quickly consume it and release it as carbon dioxide.
Source: Florida State University