Monday, 22 May 2017

Alaska emitted more than the rest of the US, from permafrost- positive feedback

When I spoke to Paul Beckwith last year on the Alberta fires we had a conversation that was not recorded in which I asked about the dilemma of reported flatline CO2 emissions and rapidly increasing CO2 concentations in the atmosphere (currently 410 ppm and going up). His reply was it may be because someone is cooking th books and downplaying their emissions but his fear was that emissions were now coming from non-human sources such as the fires in Indonesia, Siberia and the Amazon.

It looks very much that Paul’s fear is coming to pass and here is one more piece of evidence that shows a huge positive, self-reinforcing feedback coming from nature itself. The Alaskan permafrosts are now emitting more carbon than the whole of US industry.

Here is a quote with intro by Marc Haneburght:

"They are a bit sloooooooow in raising the alarm.

"Disastrous breaking news out of Alaska: The following is a synopsis (quotation) of a horrifying scientific release d/d May 11, 2017:

The study, based on aircraft measurements of carbon dioxide and methane and tower measurements from Barrow, Alaska, found that from 2012 through 2014, the state emitted the equivalent of 220 million tons of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere from biological sources (the figure excludes fossil fuel burning and wildfires). That’s an amount comparable to all the emissions from the US commercial sector in a single year.” That is horrific news. It now appears that nature is cooperating in a positive feedback loop (which is extremely negative, as it is nature operating hands-free on auto pilot) in harmony with humans, overflowing the atmosphere with heat-trapping greenhouse gases. That’s a perfect script for an end of the world apocalypse film project."

Meanwhile here in New Zealand there seems to be a blanket denial by scientists and media alike that anything outside the ultra-conservative IPCC prognostications is happening. The world is heating in a nice linear manner at  0.1C a decade and the Antarctic sea ice is not contracting.

First, the position with methane emissions:

This is a beta from Copernicus. 
Methane surface PPB 05 18 2017 The surface level pinpoints the source location better. Other levels are available on the website. And I repeat, the energy balance for methane is about 1250 ppb. Thanks - Harold H. Hensell!Methane!Surface!06!Global!macc!od!enfo!nrt_fields_ghg!2017051800!!/

And here is the article from the Washington Post:

We all knew this was coming’: Alaska’s thawing soils are now pouring carbon dioxide into the air
Chris Mooney

8 May, 2017

Even as the Trump administration weighs withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a new scientific paper has documented growing fluxes of greenhouse gases streaming into the air from the Alaskan tundra, a long-feared occurrence that could worsen climate change.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that frozen northern soils — often called permafrost — are unleashing an increasing amount of carbon dioxide into the air as they thaw in summer or subsequently fail to refreeze as they once did, particularly in late fall and early winter.

Over a large area, we’re seeing a substantial increase in the amount of CO2 that’s coming out in the fall,” said Roisin Commane, a Harvard atmospheric scientist who is the lead author of the study. The research was published by 19 authors from a variety of institutions, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study, based on aircraft measurements of carbon dioxide and methane and tower measurements from Barrow, Alaska, found that from 2012 through 2014, the state emitted the equivalent of 220 million tons of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere from biological sources (the figure excludes fossil fuel burning and wildfires). That’s an amount comparable to all the emissions from the U.S. commercial sector in a single year.

The chief reason for the greater CO2 release was that as Alaska has warmed up, emissions from once frozen tundra in winter are increasing — presumably because the ground is not refreezing as quickly.

The soils are warmer deeper, and as they freeze in the fall, the temperature of every soil depth has to come to zero before they hard freeze,” Commane said. “The temperature has to come to zero and equilibrate, for the soils to freeze hard through. And through that whole period you have emissions because the microbe are active.”

In particular, the research found that since 1975, there has been a 73.4 percent increase in the amount of carbon lost from the Alaskan tundra in the months of October through December as the climate warmed steadily.

The new study is “the first to show that a large region of the Arctic is a carbon source and that this change is driven by increased carbon emissions during the winter,” said Sue Natali, a permafrost researcher with the Woods Hole Research Center, who was not involved in the study. “Because the models aren’t capturing these cold-season processes, we’re very likely underestimating carbon losses from the Arctic under current and future climate scenarios.”

The fears about permafrost carbon losses are based on some simple chemistry. Unlike at warmer latitudes, where microorganisms in the soil constantly break down plant matter and return the carbon it contains to the atmosphere, Arctic soils have been cold enough to preserve the frozen remains of ancient plant life. But as the planet warms, soil microbes become able to break down more and more of this carbon, sending it back into the atmosphere and worsening global warming in a troubling feedback loop.

Some scientists, however, held out hope that there would be a key offsetting process: As the Arctic warms, it might also stow away more carbon as it becomes greener and supports the additional plant life, particularly in tundra regions. This “Arctic greening” is indeed occurring, but the new research suggests that the permafrost losses in early winter are more than enough to offset that.

There is greening going on, but it seems like you run out of the sunlight so far north, so it doesn’t matter how much greening there is, eventually, the plants just run out of light,” Commane said. “It appears now that the microbes are winning.”

The new study contrasts with a 2016 study by the U.S. Geological Survey, which had found that Alaska was acting as a net carbon “sink” at the moment — removing more carbon from the air than it is emitting — and that this should continue and expand over the course of the century as plant growth increases.

One of the lead authors of that research, Dave McGuire of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and USGS, said the new study is “not the final word, but it is a significant step forward.” McGuire pointed out that the new study looks at the years 2012 to 2014, whereas the 2016 USGS study looked at earlier years and ended in 2009, making an “apples to apples” comparison difficult.

Alaska is only one area of the Arctic where permafrost soils could be emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Permafrost regions in Canada and Siberia are even vaster. But the new study’s lessons could also apply to those areas, researchers say.

The study “shows that the Alaska region, which may be representative of large swaths of boreal forest and Arctic tundra biomes elsewhere, appear to be releasing net carbon to the atmosphere, in particular with stimulated emissions in the fall/early winter period,” said Ted Schuur, an ecologist at Northern Arizona University, who was not involved in the research.

We all knew this was coming, but I’m surprised that we can even see it now,” Commane said.

And the paper this all comes from

Carbon dioxide sources from Alaska driven by increasing early winter respiration from Arctic tundra


Rising arctic temperatures could mobilize reservoirs of soil organic carbon trapped in permafrost. We present the first quantitative evidence for large, regional-scale early winter respiration flux, which more than offsets carbon uptake in summer in the Arctic. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Barrow station indicate that October through December emissions of CO2 from surrounding tundra increased by 73% since 1975, supporting the view that rising temperatures have made Arctic ecosystems a net source of CO2. It has been known for over 50 y that tundra soils remain unfrozen and biologically active in early winter, yet many Earth System Models do not correctly represent this phenomenon or the associated CO2 emissions, and hence they underestimate current, and likely future, CO2 emissions under climate change.


High-latitude ecosystems have the capacity to release large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere in response to increasing temperatures, representing a potentially significant positive feedback within the climate system. Here, we combine aircraft and tower observations of atmospheric CO2 with remote sensing data and meteorological products to derive temporally and spatially resolved year-round CO2 fluxes across Alaska during 2012–2014. We find that tundra ecosystems were a net source of CO2 to the atmosphere annually, with especially high rates of respiration during early winter (October through December). Long-term records at Barrow, AK, suggest that CO2 emission rates from North Slope tundra have increased during the October through December period by 73% ± 11% since 1975, and are correlated with rising summer temperatures. Together, these results imply increasing early winter respiration and net annual emission of CO2 in Alaska, in response to climate warming. Our results provide evidence that the decadal-scale increase in the amplitude of the CO2 seasonal cycle may be linked with increasing biogenic emissions in the Arctic, following the growing season. Early winter respiration was not well simulated by the Earth System Models used to forecast future carbon fluxes in recent climate assessments. Therefore, these assessments may underestimate the carbon release from Arctic soils in response to a warming climate.


  • Author contributions: R.C., J.L., R.Y.-W.C., B.C.D., A.K., S.M.M., C.S., C.E.M., and S.C.W. made aircraft measurements; A.K., J.B.M., and C.S. provided CRV data; K.T. provided BRW data; K.A.L. provided the Polar-VPRM model with input from E.S.E. and N.C.P.; J.M.H. calculated WRF-STILT footprints; R.C., J.L., and J.B. prepared inputs to the optimization; J.B. designed the optimization algorithm and performed the optimization with input from R.C., J.L., S.M.M., and S.C.W; R.C., C.S., P.T., and S.C.W. calculated the long-term BRW response; N.C.P. and J.T.R. provided CMIP5 model input and discussion; J.T.R. and S.V. calculated biomass burning contribution; J.B.M. calculated fossil fuel contribution; and R.C. wrote the paper with input from all authors.
  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.
  • This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
  • Data deposition: The data reported in this paper are available at the following links: regional gridded CO2 fluxes, doi:10.3334/ORNLDAAC/1389; CARVE aircraft CO2 data, doi: 10.3334/ORNLDAAC/1402; PVPRM-SIF, doi:10.3334/ORNLDAAC/1314; CRV tower CO2 data, doi: 10.3334/ORNLDAAC/1316; and BRW tower CO2 data, doi:10.7289/V5RR1W6B.
  • This article contains supporting information online at

    FM15 Press Conference Alaska’s thawing permafrost Latest results and future projections

Alaska’s permafrost is starting to thaw as the climate warms, and scientists project there will be even greater thawing of the frozen soils in the coming decades, releasing carbon into the atmosphere, and impacting ecological systems and infrastructure. A panel of permafrost experts will unveil new findings about permafrost degradation in Alaska, where permafrost covers 80 percent of the land, and new projections of future permafrost changes in the state and its national parks. They will also discuss the consequences of permafrost degradation in the region and the development of a permafrost forecast system.


Vladimir Romanovsky, Professor of Geophysics, Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska, USA;
Santosh Panda, Research Associate, Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska, USA;
Kevin Schaefer, Research Scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center,


  1. URGENT QUESTION FOR CLARIFICATION. The article of seemorerocks states: "The study, based on aircraft measurements of carbon dioxide and methane and tower measurements from Barrow, Alaska, found that from 2012 through 2014, the state emitted the equivalent of 220 million tons of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere from biological sources (the figure excludes fossil fuel burning and wildfires). That’s an amount comparable to all the emissions from the U.S. commercial sector in a single year." According to my knowledge the US emits 5 gigatons of CO2 per annum, then how can 220 millio tons be MORE than 5 gigatonnes ?? I need clarification because if our statements are not correct, we are making fools of ourselves!! We will be called - and rightfully so - fearmongerers! The situation is dire, but we do not have to push people over the cliff !! Thank you, with love

    1. I do not have the information to answer your query. I am just the postman. I suggest you direct this question to Sam Carana or Guy McPherson.

    2. PS.Why don't you contact the author of the WaPost article?

    3. According to many sources, but especially the US EPA (here linked), the US CO2 emissions fluctuated above the 5 gigaton mark. Mostly in the 5.5 to 7.2 Gt range. As far as I can tell, this is the overall CO2 emissions. The confusion (220 Mt-vs-7 Gt), is likely to be how the data was sourced and categorised by Chris Mooney (WaPost). He mentions from the 'US commercial sector', which according to the EPA is a smaller portion of the overall annual US emissions. Otherwise, I also suspect, that baring a typo, Mr Mooney may be deliberately down-playing the amount of US CO2 emissions per annum, pursuant to gov agenda (he does work for MSM...).


  2. I - personally - do not want to be the postman anymore. I will be more attentive before posting and reposting articles with inaccurate data. regards, Chris