Savannah Scientists Study Emerging Global Warming Threat

Many are familiar with the phrase “throwing gasoline on a fire”.  That scenario may be playing out when it comes to global warming. 

A local scientist is part of one of the leading research teams looking for answers to just such an emerging environmental threat. 

The thawing of the arctic tundra is the focus of the study, as ancient carbon is on the verge of new life after being locked in permafrost for millennia.  The United States is one of five nations providing manpower from our scientific community to study the problems from permafrost thawing. 

One team member works at The University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in Savannah.

Dr. Aron Stubbins is a marine bio geochemist and a researcher with UGA.  His expertise in advanced chemical analysis, led to his selection to the international team.  That team’s work is featured in a recently published report with an ominous prediction. “By 2100’s, within the next century…about a similar amount has been released during the industrial revolution will be released through this process.”

The permafrost thawing threat took Stubbins from Skidaway Island to Siberia, Russia.  That is where a huge share of ancient organic material was locked in a frozen state for the last 20,000 years.  Global warming is being blamed for the thaw and the fear is the gases being released will only make a bad situation worse.  The permafrost thaw brings the potential release of a staggering amount of methane and carbon dioxide. 

” The best estimate of how much carbon is locked away at the moment in permafrost is about ten times the amount as has been released since the beginning of the industrial revolution.”

Dr. Stubbins work focuses on analyzing just how much of the carbon  in the is getting into the rivers and lakes, where it can be converted into carbon dioxide.  The news release of Dr. Stubbins participation in this international effort cited the lead of author of the study, Robert Spencer of Florida State University, who added, “Interestingly, we also found that the unique composition of thawed permafrost carbon is what makes the material so attractive to microbes.”

To look at it another way, scientists estimate there is two and a half times more carbon locked away in the arctic deep freezer than there is in the atmosphere today. The thaw in the arctic also produces methane, that this scientists fiery demonstration shows is also a by-product of permafrost thaw.  the carbon release has the potential to create what scientists call a positive feedback loop. The research indicates that the greenhouse gases created by a melting tundra is like adding an accelerator to the fire that is global warming.  

“They will extenuate …Global warming…that they will amplify it.”

The results of the study were published in Geophysical Research Letters. In addition to Stubbins and Spencer, the research team included Paul Mann from Northumbria University, United Kingdom; Thorsten Dittmar from the University of Oldenburg, Germany; Timothy Eglinton and Cameron McIntyre from the Geological Institute, Zurich, Switzerland; Max Holmes from Woods Hole Research Center; and Nikita Zimov from the Far-Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Science.  The UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography is a research unit of the University of Georgia located on Skidaway Island near Savannah. The mission of the institute is to provide the state of Georgia with a nationally and internationally recognized center of excellence in marine science through research and education.  For more information, see www.skio.uga.edu.

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