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Arctic plant carbon sequestration may be over-estimated

One of the few pieces of apparently good climate news in recent years was that the growth of new vegetation in the Arctic has helped remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the crucial Polar Regions.  However, a new NASA-led study has cast doubt on the effect that new plant growth is having.

The problem arises from an absence of observations in the dark winter months when there is no vegetation to remove carbon from the atmosphere, but carbon dioxide is entering the atmosphere from the still unfrozen soil:

“The cold-season emissions come mainly from deep soil layers that retain enough summer heat to remain thawed after the soil’s surface freezes in the fall. As the climate continues to warm, these buried layers are expected to remain unfrozen later and later into the winter, releasing more and more carbon.”

The study’s authors call for all-year monitoring flights in order to fully understand the effects.  However, it is likely that they will find that the gradual increase in Arctic plant growth is not quite as good news as scientists had hoped.

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