We human beings are responsible for global warming. As a result, Artic permafrost is thawing faster and faster, and at greater depths. In the process, massive quantities of carbon that were locked away from the global carbon cycle for millennia are now being released. Permafrost normally acts as a giant ‘deep-freeze’ for storing carbon, performing a vital climate-regulating function; but when it thaws, it can no longer fulfil that function, and the resultant carbon release significantly accelerates global warming.
Roughly a quarter of all landmasses in the Northern Hemisphere will be affected by changes in the permafrost; yet very few people realise what the thawing processes in distant Siberia or Alaska will mean for climate change – and for all of us living on this planet. The fact is that the dwindling permafrost soils will greatly reduce the time left to implement effective climate protection policies. Accordingly, the better we understand the changes at work in the permafrost, the better we can gauge their impacts on climate change, and the more concretely we can discuss the measures that need to be pursued to combat global warming at the societal and political level.
The experts participating in the PETA-CARB project chose to take on this important task. In the course of their research, they arrived at new findings on the thawing processes sparked by climate change and their potential effects on the global carbon cycle. Combining field studies, remote sensing, and modelling, they systematically analysed the rapid thawing of the permafrost and determined the carbon content in deep permafrost layers.
Good research needs to be shared and discussed
For most people, permafrost is a distant phenomenon that seems to have little to do with their own lives, making it hard for them to relate to. With the help of the resources provided by the Ralf Dahrendorf Prize, the Potsdam-based researchers hope to help overcome that distance by showing interested members of the general public the broad landmasses that are home to permafrost soils, and the tremendous quantities of carbon they store. To do so, they will use a temporary exhibit format, in which visitors use a 3D visor to immerse themselves in a virtual permafrost world. They’ll also have the chance to see, hear, touch and smell permafrost, thanks to original archaeological artefacts from the Ice Age and hands-on permafrost experimentation boxes. Lastly, ‘before-and-after’ lenticular images, together with video and audio recordings from expeditions to the Arctic, will help illustrate the thawing of the permafrost, and the fieldwork involved in investigating it.
The EU project PETA-CARB was funded by:
The 7th EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, specific programme: ‘Ideas’, European Research Council Programme (ERC starting grant)