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Permafrost Thawing Accelerating Global Warming, Study Suggest

Update Date: Apr 08, 2014 11:12 AM EDT

Permafrost thawing releases large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere via plants, according to a new study. 

"We've known for a while now that permafrost is thawing," said Suzanne Hodgkins, the lead author on the paper and a doctoral student in chemical oceanography at Florida State, according to TG Daily. "But what we've found is that the associated changes in plant community composition in the polar regions could lead to way more carbon being released into the atmosphere as methane."

Permafrost is basically a soil that is frozen year round and is found mainly in polar regions. Due to global warming, these permafrosts are thawing and decomposing which ultimately is producing increased amounts of methane. 

Methane is known to carry more potential for global warming. The gas is 33 times more effective at warming the Earth on a mass basis and is also a century time scale relative to carbon dioxide.

Breaking down of plants is also releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Researchers warned that if permafrosts melt entirely there would be five times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere than presently. 

"The world is getting warmer, and the additional release of gas would only add to our problems," said Jeff Chanton, the John Widmer Winchester Professor of Oceanography at Florida State in the press release.

The work, "Changes in peat chemistry associated with permafrost thaw increase greenhouse gas production," was funded by a three-year, $400,000 Department of Energy grant. 

The research will be published in the newest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

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