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Alaska tundra source of early-winter carbon emissions

08 May 2017

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Warmer temperatures and thawing soils may be driving an increase in emissions of carbon dioxide from Alaskan tundra to the atmosphere, particularly during the early winter, according to a new study supported by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). More carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere will accelerate climate warming, which, in turn, could lead to the release of even more carbon dioxide from these soils.

A new paper led by Roisin Commane, an atmospheric researcher at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, finds the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from northern tundra areas between October and December each year has increased 70 percent since 1975. Commane and colleagues analysed three years of aircraft observations from NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) airborne mission to estimate the spatial and seasonal distribution of Alaska's carbon dioxide emissions. They also studied NOAA's 41-year record of carbon dioxide measured from ground towers in Barrow (the name recently changed back to Utqiagvik), Alaska. The aircraft data provided unprecedented spatial information, while the ground data provided long-term measurements not available anywhere else in the Arctic. Results of the study are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: NASA

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Charles Miller - Winter sun setting over the tundra polygons in northern Alaska in November 2015. As winter sets in and snow settles, the soils take time to freeze completely and continue to emit carbon dioxide long into the new year.