Dating and melting

01-Nov-2019 04:40

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That’s because the deep freeze of the permafrost doesn’t just keep carbon from escaping — it keeps microbes intact as well.

Permafrost is the place to preserve bacteria and viruses for hundreds of thousands — if not a million — years, explains Jean-Michel Claverie, a genomics researcher who studies ancient viruses and bacteria.

But if the freezer compressor breaks, it will slowly heat up. For tens of thousands of years, permafrost has acted like a freezer, keeping 1,400 gigatons (billion tons) of plant matter carbon trapped in the soil.

(That’s more than double the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere.) Some of the plant matter is more recent, and some is from glacial ice ages that radically transformed a lush landscape into a tundra.

A recent Arctic Council report says that 20 percent of the permafrost near the surface may melt by 2040.

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So how do scientists know there’s permafrost underneath it?But the logic here is simple: The more warming, the greater the risk of kick-starting this feedback loop.A study published in finds that the Arctic permafrost is the largest repository of mercury on Earth. And scientists now think there is around 15 million gallons frozen in permafrost soils — nearly twice the amount of mercury found in all other soil, the ocean, and atmosphere combined.“The disease from thawing human and animal remains can get into groundwater that people then drink,” Wired reported.

Scientists are worried that as more permafrost thaws, especially in Siberia, there may be more outbreaks of long-dormant anthrax as burial grounds thaw.Permafrost is like the bedrock of the Arctic (you literally need jackhammers to break it apart).