Thawing Permafrost Believed to Release More CO2 than Previous Estimations, Shows New Study

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A study recently published by researchers at the University of Alberta shows that the thawing permafrost might release more carbon dioxide than previously believed because there is also a process called mineral weathering. This process takes place when the minerals trapped in the permafrost are exposed to the surface. The chemical components of the minerals get broken down into sulfuric or carbonic acid which exists in water.

Geologic time scales showed that to control the atmospheric CO2 levels and the climate, carbonic acid weathering is necessary, but in other conditions, weathering by sulfuric acid will release a lot of CO2.

Mineral Weathering and Permafrost Thaw

The lead author of the study, Scott Zolkos, a Ph.D. candidate at the U of A and Suzanne Tank, his supervisor, found out that these conditions will happen in the western Canadian Arctic. Zolkos explains that the “rapidly thawing permafrost on the Peel Plateau in the Northwest Territories is greatly enhancing mineral weathering.” He added that the weathering is driven by “sulfuric acid in this region, intensifying permafrost thaw could be an additional source of CO2 to the atmosphere.”

To get to this conclusion, the team of researchers worked with scientists at the Northwest Territories Geoscience Office to have all long-term records of Peel River’s chemistry analyzed.

Scientists found that, in recent decades, the regional permafrost thaw has intensified and that the weathering was caused by sulfuric acid.

Zolkos concluded that more warming in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, will allow more permafrost thaw and change the Arctic and global ecosystems.

Both Zolkos and Tank agree that there is little research on the effect of mineral weathering on climate warming, but they hope to change that.

The research was published in Geophysical Research Letters under the title “Mineral Weathering and the Permafrost Carbon-Climate Feedback.”

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere