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Arctic Bogs Hold Another Global Warming Risk that Could Spiral Out of Control

As warming brings earlier spring rains in the Arctic, more permafrost thaws, releasing more methane in a difficult-to-stop feedback loop, research shows.

Alaskan wetlands (Credit: S Hillebrand/USFWS) Click to Enlarge.

Increasing spring rains in the Arctic could double the increase in methane emissions from the region by hastening the rate of thawing in permafrost, new research suggests.

The findings are cause for concern because spring rains are anticipated to occur more frequently as the region warms.  The release of methane, a short-lived climate pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide over the short term, could induce further warming in a vicious cycle that would be difficult if not impossible to stop.

“Our results emphasize that these permafrost regions are sensitive to the thermal effects of rain, and because we’re anticipating that these environments are going to get wetter in the future, we could be seeing increases in methane emissions that we weren’t expecting,” said the study’s lead author, Rebecca Neumann, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Washington.  The study appears in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Scientists specializing in the thawing of the permafrost have been warning for years that this kind of feedback loop, which both results from and accelerates global warming, has not been taken into account in the comprehensive climate assessments that drive worldwide climate policies.

As a result, they say, the Paris climate agreement signed in 2015 was probably not ambitious enough in its goals for avoiding the worst effects of warming.

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