Scientists studying global warming have taken a particular interest in the freshet, or flooding triggered by melting snow each spring in the arctic. These waters contain much of the carbon that is being released by melting permafrost is then oxidized by bacteria into carbon dioxide.
40% of the total carbon that is transferred from the Arctic to the atmosphere is derived from surface waters.
To date, however, there is scant research about the transformation of organic carbon in Arctic waters into carbon dioxide. Instead, the majority of the research has focused on the slow melting of the icy soils from the top down.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2012 Arctic Report Card, published in December details Arctic temperatures and measurements of the changing thickness of the active layer of the permafrost, the layer of surface soil that melts and refreezes each year. This is essentially a state of the state report. What scientists have discovered is that as melting has progressed over the years, huge holes and landslides have begun to appear in the tundra. The melting permafrost sinks and creates thermokarst failures.
Thermokarst failures unleash rapid bursts of carbon-rich organic material, as rivulets of water from the melting ice cut deep channels into the soil and transport the carbon into rivers or the ocean.
The key to understanding climate change may very well be lie in understanding the transformations of the carbon in Arctic waters and understanding why exposure to light accelerates the decomposition.