SIAM Undergraduate Research Online

Volume 14

SIAM Undergraduate Research Online Volume 12

Adapting the Budyko Model to Analyze Permafrost Recession and Potential for Carbon Feedback

Published electronically January 12, 2021
DOI: 10.1137/20S1353344

Authors: John Nguyen and Aileen Zebrowski (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities) 
Sponsor: Dr. Kaitlin Hill (Wake Forest University)

Abstract: Permafrost is a thick layer of soil that is frozen throughout the year and covers significant portions of the northern hemisphere. Currently, there is a large amount of carbon trapped in the permafrost, and as permafrost melts, a significant portion of this carbon will be released into the atmosphere as either carbon dioxide or methane. We use empirical data to estimate that, on average, permafrost currently extends from the arctic to latitude 61_N. We propose an adaption to the Budyko energy balance model to study the impacts of receding permafrost. We track the steady-state latitude of both the permafrost line and the snow line as greenhouse gas emissions, and consequently, global mean temperature increases. Using the change in permafrost surface area, we are able to quantify the total carbon feedback of melting permafrost. Focusing our analysis on scenarios described in recent IPCC reports and the Paris Climate Agreement, we use change in the permafrost line latitude to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide released by the melted permafrost. Similarly, we use the snow line to calculate the minimum average global temperature that would cause the ice caps to completely melt. We find that our adaption of the Budyko model produces estimates of carbon dioxide emissions within the range of projections of models with higher complexity.