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The Melting Permafrost Is Leaking Acid In The Arctic

Sep 20, 2018 07:06 PM EDT
As the Arctic permafrost melts, it releases all the minerals and gases it has locked away for millennia. The result? Meltwater containing acid that's destroying rocks as it runs down in the region.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Chalk it up to yet another consequence of climate change: the Arctic permafrost is melting and acid is leaking out as a result.

The permafrost's slow but sure thawing throughout the planet is bad enough, but now, scientists have revealed that there's also acid spilling out from the Earth — and it could be a dangerous prospect for the future.

An Acidic Trail In The Arctic

In a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on Sept. 5, researchers explain that acid from the permafrost is dissolving rocks as it runs downhill, which could lead to even greater strain on the climate.

The permafrost holds a wide range of minerals, Live Science explains. As temperatures increase in the Arctic and the ice melts away, these minerals are let loose. Sulfide minerals that were released go on to form sulfuric acid, which researchers say have been eating away the rocks that were once blanketed in permafrost in the western Canadian Arctic.

This process of chemical weathering erodes the rocks and unleashes the carbon dioxide that is locked inside, adding even more of the gas to the atmosphere. The amount of sulfides in the permafrost to cause the acid and the erosion is still unknown.

Carbonic acid could also cause chemical weathering, but instead of releasing the carbon dioxide like sulfuric acid does, it actually does the opposite: consumes and locks in the gas.

"We can control many sources of CO2 to the atmosphere, caused by human activities, like fossil fuels and land-use change," Scott Zolkos, lead study author from the University of Alberta, explains to New Scientist via Brinkwire. "But once permafrost starts to thaw and release CO2 and methane, that's beyond our control. It's not like we can put a giant thermal blanket on the Arctic."

Other Consequences Of The Melting Permafrost

One of the main concerns over the thawing permafrost is that it is adding even more greenhouse gases to the already astronomical emissions. Just like the minerals that are causing the acid, as the ancient ice melts, gases such as methane and carbon dioxide that have long been trapped underground get released into the atmosphere.

This is catastrophic as Brinkwire reports the permafrost contains four times the amount of carbon already released by humans in modern times.

The meltwater from the permafrost is also responsible for many repercussions of climate change, including sea level rise and changes in water chemistry worldwide. Extreme weather changes, loss of habitat for humans and animals, and eventual extinction of a number of species are only some of the effects that emerge from these issues.

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