Next spring, James G. Anderson will embark on a “hunting expedition” to study greenhouse gas emissions in the Arctic, using instruments developed in his lab to measure methane and carbon dioxide emissions of the melting ice cap.
Unlike past research aimed at discovering the effects of climate change on the Arctic ice cap, this project will turn the tables and study the effects the Arctic has on climate change.
Anderson, a professor of atmospheric chemistry, said his project will focus primarily on the amount of carbon that is emitted, the “hotspots” of emission, and the sources of this carbon.
He added that he will examine permafrost—permanently frozen ground—which has large amounts of greenhouse gases trapped inside. These gases, Anderson explained, have been frozen for millions of years within the ice cap, but are starting to escape due to climate change.
“If even a small fraction is released each year, it would surpass the amount of carbon released by humans,” wrote David S. Sayres, a research associate involved with the project, in an emailed statement.
This release could then affect the ability to reduce carbon emissions and climate change, according to Sayres.
“So knowing how much and how fast the Arctic carbon is being released is crucial for making sound policy decisions about climate change and fossil fuel usage,” Sayres wrote.
The instruments developed for studying Arctic greenhouse gas emissions are the most recent projects in Anderson’s lab, which focuses primarily on “feedback” from nature—physical effects that amplify changes in our environment. The lab develops methods to understand these feedback systems and then tries to prevent or lessen their effects.
“[T]he biggest issue regarding climate change is the fact that it doesn’t look like we are going to do anything about it,” wrote Dr. Sayres. “If we are going to mitigate climate change and possibly stop it we, meaning humans, are going to have to make some drastic changes in the way we live and the way we get our energy; and we need to do it quickly.”