August 14 2019 - 01:35

Photo by Katie Orlinsky @katieorlinsky | Methane lake fire in Fairbanks, Alaska. I've been photographing in the Arctic for close to six years, trying to tell stories that put a human face on climate change. For nearly two of those years I've been working on “The Carbon Threat” for @natgeo, online today (link in my bio @katieorlinsky). The article, written by @craigwelch, tackles the urgent subject of permafrost thaw. It has been one of the most challenging stories I have ever photographed, a journey that fluctuated from frustrating and disturbing to fascinating and inspiring at a moment's notice. What is happening to our planet is not easy to swallow, but we must confront it head-on. I hope our article can help the public and policymakers recognize this new, groundbreaking reality and take action. Arctic permafrost is thawing much faster than expected, releasing carbon gases that could drastically speed up climate change. Scientists say what was once hundreds of years away could now happen in our lifetime, with permafrost thaw releasing nearly three times more greenhouse gases than expected. In this image, flammable methane, a potent greenhouse gas, bubbles from the thawing permafrost beneath a frozen lake. When you punch a hole through the ice, the gas escapes and can be measured—or set on fire— as a scientist demonstrates here. Permafrost refers to the layer of continuously frozen soil that covers almost 1/4th of the Earth’s surface, found mostly in the Arctic. Most permafrost areas have been frozen for more than 10,000 years. And trapped inside permafrost are carbon dioxide and methane gas, built up from thousands of years of decomposing organic matter. If the amount of CO2 trapped in the Earth’s permafrost was released, it would be two times the amount we currently have in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, methane is 25 times as potent as CO2, and if released could make today’s fossil fuel emissions look like chump change.