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As the Arctic warms at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, permafrost continues to melt at an increasing rate. Beneath the tundra lie vast layers of organic matter (sequestered carbon) from long-dead plants and animals. As permafrost begins to melt, this matter, frozen for thousands if not millions of years, begins to decay. Just as with our garbage and landfills, some of the by-products of this decay are carbon dioxide and methane. The latter is a greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful than the former for warming our planet. It’s roughly estimated that the permafrost emits about 500 million tons of methane each year. As these gasses increase pressure underground, they begin to seep toward the surface, and some erupt, much like a volcano, leaving sinkholes behind. “Naturally” escaping methane has not been factored into any of our climate modeling projections, meaning we might have even less time to address climate change.
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-Arctic sinkholes, right now, on NOVA!