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COP 21 – Dr. Susan Natali – Permafrost Carbon

The University of Earth: Urgent Action Series: COP 21 Paris 2015: Dr. Susan Natali:

The main point she speaks about is that greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost are currently not included in most global climate models. These emissions from thawing permafrost are going to amplify climate changes and many of the changes that the speakers are going to be talking about today. It’s called, “Permafrost, the Frozen Amplifier”. Permafrost is frozen ground, fairly widely distributed and about 25% of the northern hemisphere land area. By the end of this century, we’re expecting to lose between 30 and 70 percent of surface permafrost. 70% is based on business as usual.

The reason it is important because of Global Climate change is that permafrost stores a vast pool of carbon. The carbon is in the form of soil and organic matter. To put this in perspective, there’s about 1500 Billion tons of carbon stored in permafrost, or 1500 Gigatons, which is twice as much carbon that is stored in the atmosphere 3 times as much as what is contained in the world’s forests on a global scale and more carbon that is estimated in our current fossil fuel reserves.

The question now, is how much of this carbon will be released into the atmosphere?

At our current estimate of carbon release, under high emission scenarios by, 2100 we expect to see 130 to 160 Gigatons of carbon emitted to the atmosphere.

How does thawing permafrost effect out global emission targets? So the current allowance for the amount of carbon that can be released to stay below 2 Degrees Celsius is about 790 Gigatons since pre-industrial. Humans have already released 515 Gigatons of carbon through fossil fuel emissions and deforestation and land use change. That leaves us below 275 Gigatons.  We need to stay below this budget if we want to stay below 2 degrees Celcius.

This means that Permafrost carbon emissions need to be accounted for to meet global emissions target.


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