Temperatures are rising in the Arctic, quickly, and as the soil thaws, microorganisms in the soil come back to life. The microorganisms break down organic matter in the soil, releasing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
According to an article in Nature, soils in the permafrost region hold twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does.
Current models assume that permafrost thaws gradually and that deeper layers of organic matter are exposed over decades or even centuries. But with temperatures rising so fast, the permafrost layer is thawing and releasing greenhouse gases more quickly than predicted.
Frozen ground also is collapsing as pockets of ice melt, destabilizing meters of soil within days or weeks. This destabilization has led to forests in Alaska changing into lakes, and rivers filling with sediment that once ran clear.
These changes are causing issues for local communities, as destabilization can buckle roads and make houses unstable. Access to traditional foods also is changing, as it becomes dangerous to travel to old hunting grounds.