The permanently frozen ground – called permafrost – currently covering about 5.8 million miles worldwide, can melt. It’s exists not only in the Arctic or Antarctic regions, but it covers 24 percent of the land in the Northern Hemisphere. As it contains large amounts of carbon, when melting it releases CO2 and methane into the atmosphere.

The melting permafrost is actively shaping new, irregular landscapes – the thermokarst, which is characterized by marshy hollows and small hummocks. Also, after permafrost melting, minerals inside are becoming vulnerable to chemical weathering. Carbonic acid causes chemical erosion and dissolves the Arctic rock. But while this is locking carbon dioxide, permafrost thawing releases sulfuric acid, which releases the CO2.

Continuous greenhouse gas emissions accelerated this process and will further do so, if the 2015 Paris Agreement objectives are not met.


On December 12, 2015, 196 states adopted the Paris Agreement, which deals with greenhouse gas emissions reduction, climate change adaptation and finance, starting in 2020. As research provided undeniable evidence that global warming – and all its effects – are caused by humans, the Agreement’s main goal is:

“Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”, as described in Article 2, that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed on.

The Agreement’s negotiators recognized “that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius by reducing emissions to 40 gigatons or to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” (Paris Agreement, Decision 1/CP.21, Article 17)


Permafrost keeps locked carbon within dead plants, all the way from the last ice age. As they did not decompose, when permafrost melts, the carbon is released as CO2 into the atmosphere.

Kevin Schaefer – researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center – said to InsideClimate News that:

“These results alarm me because they predict even greater permafrost loss than shown in the global models for the 2°C warming target. Even hitting the global 2°C warming target implies major impacts to people and infrastructure in the Arctic.”

While some 1,400 billion tons of carbon are currently stored in permafrost – kept there by carbonic acid weathering and trapping CO2 – the increased thermokarst activity that produces sulfuric acid will release more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. And a study from 2015 stated that the melting permafrost is estimated to release about 90 gigatons of carbon, by 2100.

Obviously, those are chain reactions, which further accelerate global warming and natural disasters. And the question that hangs in the air is if the people will win against CO2 emissions. Or will they be trapped in heated, unbreathable atmosphere?

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