Old (or possibly ancient) carbon is escaping from Arctic soils, according to new evidence cited by The Washington Post. The news is an indicator that permafrost thaw could be aggravating the issue of climate change — although scientists are debating how much ancient carbon Arctic soils would discharge normally. Study lead author Joshua Dean of Vrije University told The Washington Post, “I would say if you’re looking at anything pushing several hundred years old to a thousand years old, then you have to start wondering whether that should be coming out of this kind of system.”
A team of researchers from institutions in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands utilized radiocarbon dating on the content of waters in the Northwest Territories of Canada and found what they described as abundant pre-industrial carbon in research published late February in the journal Environmental Research Letters. They hoped to establish a basic measurement, according to The Washington Post, of the amount of old carbon flowing into Northwest Territories waters. Further research will be necessary to pin down whether the amounts of old carbon are unusual or not.
Anna Liljedahl, a University of Alaska at Fairbanks professor who wasn’t part of the study, told The Washington Post when it comes to this area of research, a smoking gun is elusive due to cryoturbation, which means, “a mixing of soil layers due to seasonal freeze and thaw process, brings old carbon up and young carbon down into the soil column.” She did say she thought these scientists were on to something, and more studies would bolster the evidence.
Dean said the study can’t prove the Arctic has altered to put out more older carbon, but the results are still worrying. He told The Washington Post, “Clearly it’s a warning sign for the future.”