Dr. Kevin Schaeffer
Prof Kevin Schaefer’s research focuses on potential carbon dioxide and methane emissions from thawing permafrost. Permafrost is permanently frozen ground that occurs in 24% of the northern hemisphere land surface. Permafrost contains ~1700 Gt of carbon as organic matter buried over thousands of years, nearly twice the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. As temperatures warm due to the burning of fossil fuels, the permafrost and organic matter will begin to thaw. The thawed organic matter will decay, releasing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere and amplifying warming due to the burning of fossil fuels. Once they start, these emissions from thawing permafrost will continue for hundreds of year. If we do not account for emissions from thawing permafrost when we negotiate global fossil fuel emissions targets, we risk overshooting our target climate and end up with a warmer world than planned.
Schaefer’s research uses sophisticated computer models to predict the rate of permafrost thaw and the resulting carbon dioxide and methane emissions. He compares these model estimates against observed emissions obtained at tundra field observatories. He also validate these models by going out into the field and drilling permafrost cores, which we cut up and analyze in the laboratory for carbon and ice content. In addition, Schaefer evaluates the modeled permafrost thaw rates against actual thaw rates using remote sensing data, which he validate with field measurements of permafrost thaw depth collected using ground penetrating radar. Prof Schaefer’s goal is to improve how models simulate permafrost dynamics and reduce uncertainties in estimated carbon dioxide and methane emissions from thawing permafrost.
Liu, L., K. Schaefer, T. Zhang, and J. Wahr (2011), Estimating Active Layer Thickness from Remotely Sensed Surface Deformation, in press, J. Geophys. Res.
Schaefer, K., T. Zhang, L. Bruhwiler, and A. P. Barrett (2011), Amount and timing of permafrost carbon release in response to climate warming, Tellus Series B: Chem. Phys. Met., DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0889.2011.00527.x.
Schaefer, K., et al. (2009), Improving simulated soil temperatures and soil freeze/thaw at high-latitude regions in the Simple Biosphere/Carnegie-Ames-Stanford Approach model, J. Geophys. Res., 114, F02021, doi:10.1029/2008JF001125.
Schaefer K, A. S. Denning, O. Leonard (2004), The winter Arctic Oscillation and the timing of snowmelt in Europe, Geophys. Res. Lett., 31(22), Art. No. L22205.