A University of Florida ecologist, Edward Schuur, writes, in an article in the journal Nature that the key to this new, troubling information is permafrost — or frozen soil — which covers nearly 12 million square miles of land in the great north.

Schuur argues that previous climate change models have underestimated the effect of a temperature increase in the Arctic, and that because of the amount of methane released in permafrost, the effects of a warming Arctic could be 2 1/2 times greater than originally expected.

“We’re talking about carbon that’s in soil, just like in your garden where there’s compost containing carbon slowly breaking down, but in permafrost it’s almost stopped because the soil is frozen,” Schuur said.

“As that soil warms up, that carbon can be broken down by bacteria and fungi, and as they metabolize, they are releasing carbon and methane, greenhouse gases that cause warmer temperatures,” he said.

A synopsis of Schuur’s article is available at http://news.ufl.edu/2011/11/30/permafrost/

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