Feb 5, 2024

Unveiling the Role of Permafrost in Shaping Arctic Watersheds

Posted by in category: biotech/medical

How can melting permafrost influence climate change? This is what a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences hopes to address as a team of researchers from Dartmouth College investigated how permafrost landscapes, which are known for being repositories of organic carbon, could potentially contribute as much carbon to the environment as 35 million cars per year. This study holds the potential to help scientists and policymakers better understand the long-term consequences of climate change across the planet.

“The whole surface of the Earth is in a tug of a war between processes such as hillslopes that smooth the landscape and forces like rivers that carve them up,” said Dr. Joanmarie Del Vecchio, who is a Neukom Postdoctoral Fellow at Dartmouth and lead author of the study.

For the study, the researchers analyzed satellite data on more than 69,000 watersheds between just north of the Tropic of Cancer to the North Pole. For context, the Tropic of Cancer runs through central Mexico and northern Africa. The goal of the study was to ascertain the differences in landscapes between regions with and without permafrost. In the end, the researchers found that permafrost landscapes exhibit fewer rivers than landscapes in warmer climates around the world. They then estimated the amount of carbon that was stored within the permafrost that would be released if the permafrost should melt, which they determined would be between 22 billion and 432 billion tons of carbon between now and the end of the century.

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