However, predicting when and on what scale this will happen is no mean feat. “There are widely diverging views among the public,” says Strauss. For some people, the permafrost regions are a ticking climate timebomb which will soon blow up in humanity’s face. But others assume that only negligible amounts of greenhouse gases will be released in the High North in the foreseeable future.
“They’re both wrong,” stresses the Potsdam-based researcher. “Granted, there’s no reason to believe that the permafrost will suddenly start belching out huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere a few years from now, pushing the climate past the tipping point.” Nevertheless, the situation shouldn’t be downplayed, either. “After all, today the permafrost regions are already releasing nearly the same amount of greenhouse gases as Germany’s annual emissions.” And according to scientific estimates, over the course of the next two centuries, these soils could release amounts of gas into the atmosphere that would have the same effect as several hundred billion metric tons of CO2.
In addition, as the ice and snow cover dwindle, the surface of the permafrost regions is becoming darker and darker – and is therefore warmed more by the sun than in the past, when the landscape was pure white. According to the current state of research, taken together, these two factors are among the most important influences that could change the Earth’s climate.
Loss of permafrost soils is threatening habitats – the time to act is now