SOURCE: University of Guelph

DATE: April 30, 2019

SNIP: A “sleeping giant” hidden in permafrost soils in Canada and other northern regions worldwide will have important consequences for global warming, says a new report led by University of Guelph scientist Merritt Turetsky.

Scientists have long studied how gradual permafrost thaw occurring over decades in centimetres of surface soils will influence carbon release to the atmosphere. But Turetsky and an international team of researchers are looking at something very different: rapid collapse of permafrost that can transform the landscape in mere months through subsidence, flooding and landslides.

“We are watching this sleeping giant wake up right in front of our eyes,” said Turetsky, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Integrative Ecology.

Describing the formation of thaw lakes and landslides triggering mass movement of soil and sediment into rivers and streams, Turetsky adds: “It’s happening faster than anyone predicted. We show that abrupt permafrost thawing affects less than 20 per cent of the permafrost region, but carbon emissions from this relatively small region have the potential to double the climate feedback associated with permafrost thawing.”