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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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The Aborted Mission To Relaunch In December: NASA

In August, a hole appeared in a Soyuz capsule docked to the ISS that caused a brief loss of air pressure and had to be patched.

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Russian Rocket
Astronaut Anne McClain, left, is seen during training at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas. VOA

The American astronaut who will hitch the first ride on a Russian rocket since last month’s aborted launch and dramatic emergency landing is confident that her scheduled trip in December on a rocket that she calls a “workhorse” will go smoothly.

Astronaut Anne McClain, along with a Russian cosmonaut and a Canadian astronaut, will man the Dec. 3 mission. It will be the Russian-made Soyuz-FG’s first crewed flight since Oct. 11, when U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and a Russian cosmonaut landed unharmed on the Kazakh desert steppe after the rocket bound for the International Space Station failed in mid-air two minutes after liftoff.

NASA, rocket
Specialists watch broadcasts from the Soyuz spacecraft showing astronaut David Saint-Jacques of Canada, Oleg Kononenko of Russia and astronaut Anne McClain of the U.S. attending the final qualification training for their upcoming space mission in Star City near Moscow, Russia. VOA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the United States retired its Space Shuttle program in 2011, though the agency has announced plans for test flights carrying two astronauts on commercial rockets made by Boeing and SpaceX next April.

“I do see the incident that happened on Oct. 11 with our launch abort not as a failure but as a success,” McClain told Reuters in a telephone interview from Russia. “It actually bolsters my confidence in the rocket and in the processes that we have.

“We’re confident in the vehicle and getting back to it,” McClain said of the Soyuz rocket, which she called “the workhorse of the space program.”

After lifting off from Kazakhstan’s Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur last month, a damaged sensor caused one of the rocket’s three booster stages to separate improperly, falling inward on the rocket and jolting it off its ascent two miles above ground, Russian investigators announced earlier this month.

Russian Rocket
The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying the crew of astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia blasts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. VOA

During Assembly

Video from inside the capsule showed the two men being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, their arms and legs flailing. Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin can be heard saying, “That was a quick flight.”

The accident was the first serious launch problem experienced by a crewed Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launchpad explosion.

Also Read: NASA Grants $7 Mn For New Life Detection

In August, a hole appeared in a Soyuz capsule docked to the ISS that caused a brief loss of air pressure and had to be patched. Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has said that it could have been made deliberately by someone during manufacturing or while the craft was in space.

McClain and two other crewmates will launch from the same launchpad in Baikonur, joining the space station’s current three-person crew. (VOA)