New research tells us that permafrost is releasing about 12 times as much nitrous oxide as we'd thought. This means permafrost thawing will speed climate destabilization faster than current models project.
... until recently, the threat of … nitrous oxide has largely been ignored.
Now, a recent paper shows that nitrous oxide emissions from thawing Alaskan permafrost are about twelve times higher than previously assumed. "Much smaller increases in nitrous oxide would entail the same kind of climate change that a large plume of CO2 would cause" says Jordan Wilkerson, first author…
... nitrous oxide poses a second, special threat: Up in the stratosphere, sunlight and oxygen team up to convert the gas into nitrogen oxides, which eat at the ozone. According to the EPA, atmospheric levels of the gas are rising, and the molecules can stay in the atmosphere for up to 114 years.
... the permafrost is predicted to thaw at an ever-increasing rate. These warm temperatures could also bring more vegetation to the region. Since plants eat nitrogen, they could help decrease future nitrous oxide levels. But, to understand how plants might mitigate the risk, researchers need more data on the risk itself. [emphasis mine]
Don't count too much on Arctic greening to save us from rising nitrous oxide, though, because of Arctic browning. Large areas have plants killed off by wildfires, plagues of moth caterpillars, and warm mid-Winter interludes taking away plant freezing defenses too soon.
The bottom line is that we don't have enough information to predict how much faster climate destabilization will escalate than current best models projected.
Thanks for sharing the news, Ruth. And I won't resist saying it: it's no laughing matter.