Nitrous Oxide’s Global Warming Impact No Laughing Matter

Thawing permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere releases “large amounts” of greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, according to a new study from the journal Nature Geoscience.

The study found that under certain conditions thawed permafrost can release as much nitrous oxide as tropical forests, one of the main sources of the gas.

Nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas,” is ranked third behind carbon dioxide and methane in contributing to global warming, and is regulated under the Kyoto Protocols. According to the EPA, the gas is 310 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Sixty percent of the nitrous in the atmosphere is produced naturally.

Global warming “wild card”

Twenty-five percent of the land surface in the Northern Hemisphere is underlain by permafrost, and as it thaws it could create a feedback loop that accelerates global warming, because it releases greenhouse gases, like methane and carbon dioxide, which in turn increase warming, spurring more thawing.

Scientists had thought only a little nitrous oxide was released during this process, but the journal study suggests otherwise.

Scientist Bo Elberling led the study, which was conducted on permafrost core samples from Greenland. Thawing and draining the soil from the cores did not increase the production of nitrous oxide, but when the scientists re-saturated the samples with meltwater from the frozen soil — as would happen naturally after thawing — nitrous oxide production was increased 20 times, with a third of it entering the atmosphere.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

11 responses

  1. Pingback: Nitrous Oxide’s Global Warming Impact No Laughing … - Triple Pundit | The Warming Zone
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    1. Well, what is the main goal of a scam? To make money. Al Gore is spending so much time and his own money in studying, researching, and campaigning for global warming awareness.
      So you should ask yourself, who benefits most from scamming us? The people promoting global warming awareness? Or the people who want us to keep polluting, being wasteful and consuming lots of energy and oil?? I think those people want us to keep spending money and increasing our energy consumption so that they make more money. But, that is just my opinion…

      1.   You are forgetting how much Al Gore and the environmentalists make scamming people about global warming. These environmentalists are making money off a) the government and b) selling solar panels and other worthless “green” energy sources. Meanwhile the people who “want us to keep polluting” are being hurt by ridiculous government regulation.
        Humans only account for 0.28% of the greenhouse effect, and whatever small warming that causes is offset by the reflective particles that are also being added to the atmosphere during production, which keep small amounts of sunlight from getting to the earth and thus lower temperatures by about the same miniscule amount that our emissions raise it. We need to spend money on real problems.

  3. Over population is not as much an issue as what the population consumes
    is. Earth provides enough for everyone’s need but not enough for
    everyone’s greed. The root cause of world hunger, ravaging environmental
    catastrophe and climate change, mass species extinction and global
    depletion is animal agriculture. animal-sourced food production generates more than 50% of human-caused greenhouse gases, far greater
    than all the transport(only 13%) in the world and any other human caused
    contributing factor combined.

    Methane and Nitrous oxide are as significant,if not more than carbon that can be addressed immediately due to their short half-life, a significant impact could be
    made to slowing or reversing climate change by reducing methane combined
    with reducing CO2 caused by livestock. It is simple to do this and it can be done virtually overnight if people understood. Eating local and driving a hybrid
    reduces your carbon footprint by only 5%. Eating plant based foods or a
    vegan diet reduces your carbon footprint by an astonishing 95%! Go Vegan
    and make a huge impact for the better. Eating a plant based diet also
    drastically reduces your chances of diseases by 95%. Eating a plant
    based diet saves wildlife and habitats for wildlife, rain forests, huge
    amounts of water and energy resources.

    The moral and ethical
    imperative is not to eat less of what it is bad for us and cruel for the
    animals as well as destructive to the planet, it is simply not
    debatable, it is a moral wrong just like slavery, rape or child
    molestation and it most not be condoned or encouraged in any way.

    This absurdity of “eat less meat” is a conformist and absurd rational to continuing the horrible practice.

    less flesh and mammary secretions, is like saying have less slaves,
    rape less, molest children less. Eating animals is a social evil that
    must be abolished, it is wrong to devour other living feeling beings who
    are born into a life of oppression and exploitation and systematically
    mass murdered to satisfy gluttonous appetites and by doing so grave we
    rip grave consequences that plague humans with disease and ravage the
    Earth, nature and the environment.

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