When permafrost thaws, microbes convert ancient organic matter in the frozen soil into climate-warming gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, potentially triggering a positive feedback loop that further melts the Arctic.
But the once-barren soil also spouts new—and larger—shrubs that can act as a carbon sink, and scientists have wondered what the net effect of permafrost thawing would be on atmospheric carbon balance. A new study published this week in Nature suggests that changing landscape can counterbalance the release of permafrost carbon—but only for a little while.
"The greening of the Arctic will not compensate for the huge amount of permafrost carbon that will be released," says lead author Ted Schuur, an ecosystem ecologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
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