Here’s the issue, as described in Wikipedia:
The Arctic region is one of the many natural sources of the greenhouse gas methane. Global warming accelerates its release, due to both release of methane from existing stores, and from methanogenesis in rotting biomass. Large quantities of methane are stored in the Arctic in natural gas deposits, permafrost, and as submarine clathrates. Permafrost and clathrates degrade on warming, thus large releases of methane from these sources may arise as a result of global warming. Other sources of methane include submarine taliks, river transport, ice complex retreat, submarine permafrost and decaying gas hydrate deposits.
There’s an outfit called the Arctic Methane Emergency Group which dedicates themselves to, well, emergency alarm stuff. Things like this:
Hold on there folks, some new research on actual Arctic soils over the last 20 years has provided some fresh insight. It seems there is no need to panic after all.
From Science News
News in Brief: Warming may not release Arctic carbon – Element could stay locked in soil, 20-year study suggests
In a 20-year experiment that warmed patches of chilly ground, tundra soil kept its stored carbon, researchers report.
In 1989, ecologists set up greenhouses on plots of tundra in northern Alaska. Air temperature inside the greenhouses was on average 2 degrees Celsius warmer than outside.
Over two decades, the team reports, mosses and lichens gave way to woody shrubs. Decomposition slowed in surface soil while it sped up deeper underground. Warmer soils may have allowed plant roots and plant litter to penetrate farther into the ground, increasing both the deep soil’s carbon stocks and its rates of decomposition, the researchers suggest. Overall, though, there was no difference in total soil carbon in the greenhouse plots compared with plots that had no greenhouses.
Oh, that’s gotta hurt. Here is the paper:
Long-term warming restructures Arctic tundra without changing net soil carbon storage
Seeta A. Sistla, John C. Moore, Rodney T. Simpson, Laura Gough, Gaius R. Shaver & Joshua P. Schimel
High latitudes contain nearly half of global soil carbon, prompting interest in understanding how the Arctic terrestrial carbon balance will respond to rising temperatures1, 2. Low temperatures suppress the activity of soil biota, retarding decomposition and nitrogen release, which limits plant and microbial growth3. Warming initially accelerates decomposition4, 5, 6, increasing nitrogen availability, productivity and woody-plant dominance3, 7. However, these responses may be transitory, because coupled abiotic–biotic feedback loops that alter soil-temperature dynamics and change the structure and activity of soil communities, can develop8, 9. Here we report the results of a two-decade summer warming experiment in an Alaskan tundra ecosystem. Warming increased plant biomass and woody dominance, indirectly increased winter soil temperature, homogenized the soil trophic structure across horizons and suppressed surface-soil-decomposer activity, but did not change total soil carbon or nitrogen stocks, thereby increasing net ecosystem carbon storage. Notably, the strongest effects were in the mineral horizon, where warming increased decomposer activity and carbon stock: a ‘biotic awakening’ at depth.
What I get out of this is that plants overall did better with that extra warmth, and becuase they did better, the soil was managed better due to feedback loops. Yep, those unexpected surprises from “Nature will find a way” always get you when you least expect them.