An earth system model shows self-sustained melting of permafrost even if all man-made GHG emissions stop in 2020
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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- Scientific articles 
Original versionScientific Reports. 2020, 10 (1), . 10.1038/s41598-020-75481-z
The risk of points-of-no-return, which, once surpassed lock the world into new dynamics, have been discussed for decades. Recently, there have been warnings that some of these tipping points are coming closer and are too dangerous to be disregarded. In this paper we report that in the ESCIMO climate model the world is already past a point-of-no-return for global warming. In ESCIMO we observe self-sustained thawing of the permafrost for hundreds of years, even if global society stops all emissions of man-made GHGs immediately. We encourage other model builders to explore our discovery in their (bigger) models, and report on their findings. The thawing (in ESCIMO) is the result of a continuing self-sustained rise in the global temperature. This warming is the combined effect of three physical processes: (1) declining surface albedo (driven by melting of the Arctic ice cover), (2) increasing amounts of water vapour in the atmosphere (driven by higher temperatures), and (3) changes in the concentrations of the GHG in the atmosphere (driven by the absorption of CO2 in biomass and oceans, and emission of carbon (CH4 and CO2) from thawing permafrost). This self-sustained, in the sense of no further GHG emissions, thawing process (in ESCIMO) is a causally determined, physical process that evolves over time. It starts with the man-made warming up to the 1950s, leading to a rise in the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere—further lifting the temperature, causing increasing release of carbon from thawing permafrost, and simultaneously a decline in the surface albedo as the ice and snow covers melts. To stop the self-sustained warming in ESCIMO, enormous amounts of CO2 have to be extracted from the atmosphere.