Springtime, for most of us in northern temperate climes, is a welcome season of blooming plants, longer days, and warmer temperatures. But for Ted Schuur, an ecologist at the University of Florida, the season has different connotations. For Schuur, spring means a new season of exploration and adventure on the geographic and scientific frontier, where he is trying to answer a question of immense importance for our warming planet: How much carbon is being released by the thawing of the Arctic’s so-called permafrost?
Permafrost is the frozen soil, water, and rock that, astonishingly, covers nearly one quarter of all the exposed land surface in the Northern Hemisphere. Trapped within this frozen ground is a vast amount of carbon, which has accumulated from the partial decomposition of plants and animals over tens of thousands of years. Frozen in permafrost, the organic matter is mostly stable, decaying very, very slowly. But as air and permafrost temperatures rise, the organic material breaks down more rapidly and releases carbon into the atmosphere at a higher rate. Schuur’s research seeks to find out precisely how much carbon is released in this pro... Read more