Washington: The frozen soil between the North Pole and the Arctic Ocean locks up 1,672 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases which may be released as the temperature in the Arctic rises.
This sequestered carbon is more than 250 times the amount of greenhouse gases -- that trap heat in the atmosphere -- emitted by the US alone in 2009.
As global temperatures slowly rise, so do concerns regarding the potential impact upon the carbon cycle when the permafrost thaws and releases the trapped gases.
Like so many of the planet`s critical environmental processes, the smallest players, microbes, have the most significant influence over the eventual outcome, the journal Nature reports.
Researchers from the US department of energy Joint Genome Institute, the Earth Sciences Division (ESD) of Berkeley Lab, and the US Geological Survey collaborated to understand how the microbes found in permafrost respond to their warming environment.
Among the findings was the draft genome of a novel microbe that produced methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2), according to a DOE statement.
This microbe, not yet named, lives in the permafrost and was assembled out of the collection of genomes from the frigid soil.
"The permafrost is poised to become a major source of greenhouse gases as the temperature in the Arctic is expected to increase dramatically," said ESD`s Janet Jansson, study co-author.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, in 2009 fossil fuel combustion accounted for 5.2 billion tonnes of the nation`s CO2 emissions, a tiny fraction (about a fraction of one percent) of the CO2 trapped in the Arctic permafrost.