Northern Soils: What If They Thaw?

Climate Change in Northern Latitudes
Sunday, February 19, 2012: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
Room 109 (VCC West Building)
Regions above the latitude of 50°N (boreal and arctic regions) represent 16 percent of global land surface. So far, the public perception has focused on the melting of arctic ice as one of the indicators for climate change. However, 1,700 billion tons of organic carbon are kept in the soils of these regions, and their thawing could lead to the substantial release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and would further increase global warming. Organic carbon in soils is the biggest terrestrial carbon pool and presents an important factor in future climate-change projections. Permanently frozen grounds, together with extensive peat lands, ensure that those soils are a significant carbon sink. These important carbon stores need special attention because the regions that house them are expected to warm more rapidly than the rest of the world. Similarly to what happens when you pull the electricity plug of a freezer, decomposition of organic matter starts with increased temperatures and leads, in the case of soil, to emissions of carbon dioxide and methane. This scenario could have a large effect on the current atmospheric greenhouse gas balance. Additional consequences of these dramatic changes in the soils in these areas are related to the disruption of infrastructure and urban areas due to thawing of the underlying permafrost. Research aims to address these topics through extensive monitoring of the status of these soils as well as through modeling of possible scenarios affecting this part of the globe.
Luca Montanarella, European Commission, JRC, IES
Geraldine Barry, European Commission, JRC
Luca Montanarella, European Commission, JRC, IES
What Lies Beneath the Soils of the Northern Circumpolar Region?
Charles Tarnocai, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Soil Organic Carbon Pools in the Northern Circumpolar Region
Charles Koven, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Frozen Soil Carbon and Its Impact on Climate Change