Houston Miller Studying Thawing Permafrost Emissions

Houston Miller
October 07, 2014

Dr. Miller's laboratory is among a group of researchers working to study thawing permafrost emissions in Alaska on a project entitled, "Characterizing Thawing Permafrost Carbon Emissions: An Integrated Pilot Study in Support of Satellite Evaluation/Design and Earth System Modeling Capabilities". The rest of the team is composed of researchers from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The project is funded by a $980,000 grant from NASA's Terrestrial Hydrology Program. The team is combining satellite measurements, climate modeling, and ground-level measurements of greenhouse gas concentrations during seasonal permafrost melting seasons. Dr. Miller's group is developing and deploying a sensor to perform open-path, laser absorption measurements of carbon dioxide and methane - the two most important anthropogenic greenhouse gasses - at University of Alaska field sites near Fairbanks in each of the next two years.

It is estimated that permafrost contains an estimated 1672 petagrams (one petagram equlas one billion tons) of carbon, more than twice the carbon that is currently present in the atmosphere. Because the area of the arctic where permafrost is found is warming at approximately 0.5 °C per decade, its extent may be reduced by as much as 60% by 2200 resulting in a dramatic increase of atmospheric carbon. The NASA-UA-GWU project aims to demonstrate and define a long-term measurement strategy for the release of GHGs from this important region of the planet. For more information about this project and Dr. Miller's role, read the profile written by the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Read Dr. Miller's faculty profile here.