The world’s periglacial zones, home to essentially all of the world’s permafrost, will “almost completely disappear” by the year 2100 even in the most optimistic of scenarios concerning greenhouse gas emissions reductions, according to a new study.
In other words, it appears that the vast majority of the world’s permafrost — home to vast quantities of methane and carbon dioxide that will be released as it melts and ripens — are now slated to melt, barring the creation of economic and effective means of sucking vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
According to the new work — performed by researchers from the University of Exeter, the University of Helsinki, and the Finnish Meteorological Institute — even in the most optimistic of scenarios, regions now covered by periglacial zones will be reduced drastically by 2050, and all but gone by the end of the century.
This tracks pretty well with what we’re already seeing in many of the parts of the world home to permafrost — rapid changes are clearly occurring, and seemingly at an ever faster rate.
“The results suggest that profound changes can be expected in current periglacial zones regardless of climate change mitigation policies,” explained Dr Juha Aalto, of the University of Helsinki and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
“Unfortunately, it seems that many of the frost-driven processes we studied are already at the margin of the climate in which they can exist.”
Dr Stephan Harrison, of the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, commented as well: “The project used very high-resolution climate and land surface models to demonstrate that geological processes and ecosystems in high latitudes (the far north and south) will be fundamentally altered by climate change during this century.”
While it’s not possible this far out to predict exactly what will happen as these periglacial zones disappear, rapid warming of the regions in question as snowpack and ice disappear and lessen albedo is very likely. With this warming, the release of vast amounts of greenhouse gases from the boggy substrates is pretty much a given.