What are the processes influencing the release of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide – and how much of these gases could enter the atmosphere in future?

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are present in a variety of settings in the Arctic. In particular, continental shelves (those parts of the continental plate submerged below relatively shallow seas) and permafrost are known to store large quantities of greenhouse gases. These could become a major, self-reinforcing driver of Arctic climate change if they were released by melting.

Given the potential for large-scale greenhouse gas emissions, estimating how much carbon is stored in Arctic permafrost and continental shelves and investigating the timescales over which it might be released and how this will affect regional and global radiative forcing is a crucial undertaking.

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Image credit: BAS and Guy Hillyard. Frost sorted patterned ground (‘stone circles’ are particularly well developed on low lying ground in the vicinity of the research settlement at Ny Alesund).