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Arctic permafrost may unleash carbon within decades: NASA

Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis, so increased plant growth means less carbon in the atmosphere

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  • Permafrost in Northern Arctic can potentially become a permanent source of Carbon
  • It was previously thought to be safe from the effects of Global Warming
  • Rising temperature in the Arctic can cause severe carbon emissions

Permafrost in the coldest northern Arctic — formerly thought to be at least temporarily shielded from global warming by its extreme environment — could thaw enough to become a permanent source of carbon to the atmosphere in a few decades, warns a NASA-led study. This will happen in this century, with the peak transition occurring in 40 to 60 years, said the study.

Permafrost in Northern Arctic can become a permanent source of carbon in this century itself, according to NASA. Wikimedia Commons
Permafrost in Northern Arctic can become a permanent source of carbon in this century itself, according to NASA. Wikimedia Commons

Permafrost is soil that has remained frozen for years or centuries under topsoil. It contains carbon-rich organic material, such as leaves, that froze without decaying, NASA said in a statement on Tuesday.

As rising Arctic air temperatures cause permafrost to thaw, the organic material decomposes and releases its carbon to the atmosphere in the form of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane.

The researchers calculated that as thawing continues, by the year 2300, total carbon emissions from the coldest northern Arctic will be 10 times as much as all human-produced fossil fuel emissions in 2016.

Warmer, more southerly permafrost regions will not become a carbon source until the end of the 22nd century, even though they are thawing now, said the study led by scientist Nicholas Parazoo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

That is because other changing Arctic processes will counter the effect of thawing soil in these regions.

The finding that the colder region would transition sooner than the warmer one came as a surprise, according to Parazoo. The researchers used data on soil temperatures in Alaska and Siberia and a numerical model that calculates changes in carbon emissions as plants grow and permafrost thaws in response to climate change.

They assessed when the Arctic will transition to a carbon source instead of the carbon-neutral area it is today — with some processes removing about as much carbon from the atmosphere as other processes emit.

World is under threat due to Global Warming. Wikimedia Commons

They divided the Arctic into two regions of equal size, a colder northern region and a warmer, more southerly belt encircling the northern region. There is far more permafrost in the northern region than in the southern one.

Over the course of the model simulations, northern permafrost lost about five times more carbon per century than southern permafrost.

The southern region transitioned more slowly in the model simulations, Parazoo said, because plant growth increased much faster than expected in the south.

Also Read: Global warming portends ill for India’s flourishing Dairy sector: Experts

Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis, so increased plant growth means less carbon in the atmosphere.

According to the model, as the southern Arctic grows warmer, increased photosynthesis will balance increased permafrost emissions until the late 2100s. IANS

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NASA: No contact Made With Storm-Hit Mars Rover, Till Now

Because Opportunity runs on solar energy, scientists had to suspend science activities to preserve the rover's batteries.

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NASA said no response has been received from the rover as of July 18. Flickr

 NASA is yet to make contact with its Mars Opportunity Rover ever since a massive storm started on the Red Planet in June.

Based on the longevity of a 2001 global storm, NASA scientists estimate it may be September before the haze has cleared enough for Opportunity to power up and call home, the US space agency said this week.

Scientists first observed a smaller-scale dust storm on May 30. By June 20, it had gone global.

For the Opportunity rover, that meant a sudden drop in visibility from a clear, sunny day to that of an overcast one.

Because Opportunity runs on solar energy, scientists had to suspend science activities to preserve the rover’s batteries.

NASA said no response has been received from the rover as of July 18.

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The nearly 15-year-old rover is not out of the woods yet as it could take weeks, or even months, for the dust to start settling. Pixabay

Luckily, all that dust acts as an atmospheric insulator, keeping nighttime temperatures from dropping down to lower than what Opportunity can handle.

But the nearly 15-year-old rover is not out of the woods yet as it could take weeks, or even months, for the dust to start settling.

When the skies begin to clear, Opportunity’s solar panels may be covered by a fine film of dust. That could delay a recovery of the rover as it gathers energy to recharge its batteries. A gust of wind would help, but is not a requirement for a full recovery, NASA said.

While the Opportunity team waits in earnest to hear from the rover, scientists on other Mars missions have gotten a rare chance to study this storm.

Also Read-Survival Of Mars Rover Is Under Threat Due To A sandstorm

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Odyssey, and Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiters are all tailoring their observations of the Red Planet to study this global storm and learn more about Mars’ weather patterns.

Meanwhile, the Curiosity rover is studying the dust storm from the Martian surface, the US space agency added. (IANS)