Permafrost zones occupy nearly a quarter of the exposed land area of the Northern Hemisphere.
Tons of carbon and methane lie under the Arctic tundra, trapped in ice. The frozen ground, called permafrost, covers nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere.
Global warming is thawing patches of permafrost, releasing carbon dioxide and methane — both greenhouse gases — into the atmosphere. An airborne NASA mission called CARVE (Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment) is tracking the gas emissions to better estimate their impact on climate change.
"Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures, as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit [1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius] in just the past 30 years," Charles Miller, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "As heat from Earth's surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic's carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming," said Miller, principal investigator for the five-year mission.
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