The Arctic permafrost contains vast amount off organic carbon stored over millennia. A NASA program, CARVE, is testing a hypotheses that Arctic carbon reservoirs are vulnerable to climate warming. Will these reservoirs be released? And what happens if these vast amount of stored carbon are released?
Early results: "The CARVE science team is busy analyzing data from its first full year of science flights. What they're finding, Miller said, is both amazing and potentially troubling."
"Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we've measured have been large, and we're seeing very different patterns from what models suggest," Miller said. "We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That's similar to what you might find in a large city."
"Ultimately, the scientists hope their observations will indicate whether an irreversible permafrost tipping point may be near at hand. While scientists don't yet believe the Arctic has reached that tipping point, no one knows for sure. "We hope CARVE may be able to find that 'smoking gun,' if one exists," Miller said."