Jenny Bowen, a graduate student from the University of Michigan, was awarded a graduate student internship with NOSAMS last year and worked with NOSAMS researchers, Josh Burton and Li Xu. Bowen, along with Rose Cory (University of Michigan) and Colin Ward (WHOI), investigated the radiocarbon age of carbon dioxide produced during the oxidation of permafrost organic carbon by sunlight.
Currently, scientists estimate that 5-15% of the carbon stored in surface permafrost soils could be emitted as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 2100, given the current trajectory of global warming. This emission, spurred by microbial action, could lead to 0.3 to 0.4 degrees Celsius of additional global warming.But this estimation is missing a crucial path that carbon dioxide may be entering the atmosphere: sunlight.
Organic carbon in thawing permafrost soils flushed into lakes and rivers can be converted to carbon dioxide by sunlight, a process known as photomineralization. According to Bowen’s study, carbon emission from permafrost soils underestimated by 14% because the effect of sunlight on permafrost is not taken into consideration. Check out her work: Arctic amplification of global warming strengthened by sunlight oxidation of permafrost carbon to CO2. Cory and Bowen were also featured in University of Michigan’s Michigan News (https://news.umich.edu/carbon-emission-from-permafrost-soils-underestimated-by-14/ ).
Great job Jenny.