GELLERMAN: So what has to be done is we gotta make even greater cuts than are now being voluntarily agreed upon.
Large chunks of soil collapse as a result of permafrost thaw and erosion, as this image taken along the Sagavanirktok River on the North Slope of Alaska near Deadhorse shows. (Photo: Kevin Schaefer)
SCHAEFER: The release of carbon from permafrost is irreversible. Just like fossil fuels. Fossil fuels - once you drill the carbon, drill the oil and burn it, there's no way to put that oil back into the ground. In permafrost, once you thaw out the organic matter and it decays, there's no way to put that organic matter back into the permafrost.
So what it means is that we have to reduce our emissions even more in order to hit a target atmosphere CO2 concentration. The primary results of our paper is that permafrost can release a huge amount of carbon, and that we really have to account for that carbon when developing our global strategies to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
The predictions are too optimistic because the models are incomplete... and we just don't know enough about systems such as permafrost to include them. I wish they'd say so when telling us that we'll be seeing ice free summers in the arctic by 2070... when in fact it may occur within the next 5 years.