Focus

Permafrost

Nearly one-quarter of the land in the Northern Hemisphere is underlain by permafrost. As this frozen soil melts, it releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, and also alters surface hydrology. In this focus, we present a collection of research and comment pieces that look at the current effects of melting permafrost and assess how this vast carbon store could influence climate in the future.

Content

  • Nature Geoscience | Editorial

    Communities around the Arctic are already seeing the effects of melting permafrost. Some of the biggest effects of this thaw will probably emerge in the coming centuries.

  • Nature Geoscience | News & Views

    Climate change is causing widespread permafrost thaw in the Arctic. Measurements at 33 Arctic lakes show that old carbon from thawing permafrost is being emitted as methane, though emission rates have not changed during the past 60 years.

    • Torben R. Christensen
  • Nature Geoscience | News & Views

    The sources contributing to the deglacial rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations are unclear. Climate model simulations suggest thawing permafrost soils were the initial source, highlighting the vulnerability of modern permafrost carbon stores.

    • Andrew H. MacDougall
  • Nature Geoscience | Letter

    Warming thaws permafrost, releasing carbon that can cause more warming. Radiocarbon, soil carbon, and remote sensing data suggest that 0.2–2.5 Pg of carbon has been emitted from permafrost as CO2 and CH4 around Arctic lakes since the 1950s.

    • Katey Walter Anthony
    • , Ronald Daanen
    • , Peter Anthony
    • , Thomas Schneider von Deimling
    • , Chien-Lu Ping
    • , Jeffrey P. Chanton
    •  &  Guido Grosse

From the archives

  • Nature Geoscience | News & Views

    Methane emissions from natural gas reservoirs have long been largely overlooked. The discovery of abundant geological gas seeps in areas of cryosphere degradation highlights the relevance of these emissions to the greenhouse gas budget.

    • Giuseppe Etiope
  • Nature Geoscience | News & Views

    Large quantities of methane lie trapped beneath the floor of the Arctic Ocean. Measurements in the southern Laptev Sea around the Lena River delta suggest that bubbles and storms facilitate the flux of some of this submarine methane to the atmosphere.

    • Peter Brewer
  • Nature Geoscience | Review Article

    Lakes are sources of the greenhouse gas methane. A synthesis of measurements of methane emissions reveals that lakes and ponds above 50 °N emit 16.5 Tg methane annually, and emissions may increase by 20 to 50% with longer ice-free seasons.

    • Martin Wik
    • , Ruth K. Varner
    • , Katey Walter Anthony
    • , Sally MacIntyre
    •  &  David Bastviken
  • Nature Geoscience | Letter

    The impact of thawing permafrost on the nitrogen cycle is uncertain. Laboratory experiments using permafrost cores from northeast Greenland reveal that rewetting of thawed permafrost increases nitrous oxide production over 20-fold.

    • Bo Elberling
    • , Hanne H. Christiansen
    •  &  Birger U. Hansen