A part of the 10-year NASA study has found that the sudden melting beneath lakes is posing a threat to climate change.
The accelerating pace of climate change has alarmed people across the globe. For years now, researchers have been worried that the world's increasing temperatures will free the carbon, which is trapped in the frozen soil of the icy Arctic region. However, they found that the abrupt melting below its lakes carries a greater risk.
"The mechanism of abrupt thaw and thermokarst lake formation matters a lot for the permafrost-carbon feedback this century," said Katey Walter Anthony, lead author of the study and ecologist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
The study is part of NASA's Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment program that aims to understand the climate change effects in the Arctic region. The effort was conducted by a group of German and American researchers.
Support from the National Science Foundation allowed the researchers from the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys and the University of Alaska Fairbanks to gather relevant data.
"We don't have to wait 200 or 300 years to get these large releases of permafrost carbon. Within my lifetime, my children's lifetime, it should be ramping up. It's already happening but it's not happening at a really fast rate right now, but within a few decades, it should peak," Anthony added.
The study published in the journal Nature Communication on Aug. 15 focused on the carbon that is released by the melting permafrost beneath the region's thermokarst lakes. According to the study, the lakes develop when the increasing temperature of the soil melts the ground ice. Because of this, the surface collapses and forms pools of water.
Threat To Climate Change
The pools increase the level of melted permafrost below the growing lakes, providing food for the microbes that create the greenhouse gasses, methane and carbon dioxide.
The lead author, together with her team, studied hundreds of thermokarst lakes in Siberia and Alaska for 12 years. They measured how much the lakes expanded and how much methane was making its way to the surface through bubbles.
By integrating their fieldwork results with the data of the changes in the lake for the past two years, they found that the sudden melting beneath the lakes will release enormous amounts of permafrost carbon into the atmosphere in this century.
They also concluded that by 2050, the lake activity has a possibility to double the release from terrestrial landscapes.