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article imageChanging temperatures could lead to awakening permafrost

By Tim Sandle     Mar 9, 2015 in Environment
Scientists are worried that as the Arctic warms through global warming, then the considerable quantity of carbon locked away in Arctic tundra will be transformed into greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane).
This transition is likely to come about by the microorganisms locked into the permafrost. What scientists are interested in are how microbes survive such extreme conditions and what happens when they become metabolically active with rising temperatures. Very little is known about the microbial community within the permafrost.
The permafrost is the layer of Arctic ground that is always frozen. It lies underneath a layer of earth that thaws and refreezes every year (termed the "active layer"). The concern is that the permafrost locks carbon away in vegetative matter (an astounding 780 and 1,400 gigatons of terrestrial carbon.) The concern is that if the microbes became active, which happens when temperatures rise, they will become methane producers.
In order to study how microbes might behave as temperatures rise, researchers have been considering the types of genes the microbes are equipped with and particularly which genes they turn on, and the proteins they utilize.
Of most interest are methane producing bacteria called methanogens. The research has found more species of these methane producers than previously thought, raising concerns that an increase in temperature could trigger a greater release of greenhouse gasses than earlier models predicted.
The research highlights what is likely to happen through climate change; however, it does not provide any mechanism to prevent the effects. This can only be addressed at the geo-political level in terms of dealing with climate change.
The current research has been published in the science journal Nature. The article is titled “Multi-omics of permafrost, active layer and thermokarst bog soil microbiomes.”
More about Permafrost, Methane, Carbon dioxide
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