Enviro Political Revolution

Thawing Permafrost Is a Climatic Tipping Point

Permafrost is seen here on northeastern Spitsbergen, Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean

Permafrost is seen here on northeastern Spitsbergen, Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Credit: NASA

New scientific evidence supports that a climatic tipping point could be closer than we realize.

Thawing Permafrost: the Arctic’s Slow, Giant Carbon Release

As the Arctic heats up at a rate twice that of the rest of the globe and as sea ice and glaciers turn to water, the permafrost is also thawing. A recent review article in the journal Nature found that as the unfrozen organic matter decays, vast stores of carbon in the permafrost could be released into the atmosphere. This will trigger an irreversible feedback system and nullify existing calculations of just how much carbon humans can burn and keep the globe within a relatively safe degree of warming.

The scientific understanding of the permafrost is new—so new, in fact, that it wasn’t ready in time for the latest round of climate assessment reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s largest scientific body on global warming.

The 2014 IPCC report estimated that to hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, worldwide carbon dioxide emissions would have to be cut by 40 percent to 70 percent by 2050, and then drop to nearly zero by the end of the century. This is a tall order on its own, and it does not take into account additional emissions from permafrost thawing.

— Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News

About the author

JoAnn Chateau

JoAnn Chateau likes progressive politics and loves the canines. She sometimes writes fiction about Chester (the Alpha Bichon) and his friends -- with a dash of humor and dab of Poli-Sci. JoAnn's views and insights are tinted by her past profession in Counseling, Christian theological studies, and Library and Information Science training. Retired now, JoAnn enjoys the creative life.


  • Appreciate your green enthusiasm, JoAnn. Your recent string of posts on the subject are so sharply topical. Carbon that was lying below earth in the form of deposits for billions of years, has now shifted to the skies above with alarming consequences. It is now incumbent upon every citizen to switch to cleaner fuels to turn around the situation.

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