WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ancient roots and bones locked in long-frozen soil in Siberia are starting to thaw, and have the potential to unleash billions of tons of carbon and accelerate global warming, scientists said on Thursday.
This vast carbon reservoir, contained in permafrost soil in northeastern Siberia, contains about 75 times more carbon than the amount released into the atmosphere each year by the burning of fossil fuels, the researchers said in a statement.
Siberia isn't the only place on Earth with massive lodes of permafrost -- parts of Alaska, Canada and northern Europe have them too. The Siberian area is possibly the world's largest, covering nearly 400,000 square miles, with an average depth of 82 feet, and probably holds about 500 billion metric tons of carbon.
Earlier climate models may have failed to account for this possible component of global warming, he said.
Schuur said this source of atmospheric carbon could create a vicious global warming cycle.
If all Siberian permafrost thawed and released its carbon in the form of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, it could nearly double the 730 billion metric tons of carbon now in the atmosphere, the scientists said.