Researchers at Sheffield University, working with other universities, have studied sudden climate warmings that occurred around 55 million years ago and concluded that they were triggered by the release of carbon that had been stored in Polar region permafrosts.
This research suggests that a similar risk exists today, since rises in the earth’s average temperature could cause Polar permafrosts to thaw and release the carbon that is currently stored in them as decayed, frozen vegetation.
Professor David Beerling, of the University of Sheffield´s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: “For the first time, we have linked these past global warming events with a climatically sensitive terrestrial carbon reservoir rather than a marine one. It shows that global warming can be amplified by carbon release from thawing permafrost.”
“The research suggests that carbon stored in permafrost stocks today in the Arctic region is vulnerable to warming. Warming causes permafrost thaw and decomposition of organic matter releasing more greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere.
“This feedback loop could accelerate future warming. It means we must arrest carbon dioxide emissions released by the combustion of fossil fuels if humanity wishes to avoid triggering these sorts of feedbacks in our modern world.”