(ORDO NEWS) — Permafrost – frozen soil – is found mainly in the northern hemisphere, where it covers about a quarter of the open areas, thousands of years old.
It covers a wide belt between the Arctic Circle and the boreal forests, Alaska, Canada and Russia.
Depth can vary from several to hundreds of meters.
It is estimated that up to 1.7 trillion tons of carbon is contained in permafrost in the form of frozen organic matter – the remains of rotting plants and long-dead animals covered with ice sheets.
Permafrost soils contain about twice as much carbon – mainly in the form of methane and CO2 – than the Earth’s atmosphere.
When permafrost thaws, this substance heats up and decomposes, eventually releasing carbon, which it contains in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, gases that cause greenhouse warming on the planet.
According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in September 2019, a significant portion of permafrost could melt by 2100 if CO2 pollution continues, leading to the release of the “carbon bomb” of greenhouse gases.
Thawing of permafrost also threatens to release pathogenic bacteria and viruses that have long fallen into the ice.
There have already been several cases when this happened.
In 2016, death was recorded in the far northern part of Siberia, Russia from an outbreak of anthrax, which, according to scientists, arose from the remains of infected reindeer buried 70 years ago, but released by melting permafrost.
Freed from ice, the anthrax seems to have been transmitted to herding herds.
Scientists also warn that global warming could cause other dormant pathogens buried in frozen soil, for example, from old smallpox burial grounds.
In 2014, scientists revived a gigantic but harmless virus called Pithovirus sibericum, which has been locked in the permafrost of Siberia for more than 30,000 years.
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