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Tarmo Virtanen, University of Helsinki

Scientists have long predicted that rapidly warming temperatures in the Arctic could unleash huge amounts of carbon trapped beneath the permafrost. It's one of the tipping points in Earth's climate system that scientists are tracking closely. Now, researchers say thawing in the Arctic could also release significant amounts of nitrous oxide, an even more powerful greenhouse gas trapped below the permafrost, a new study finds.

Why it matters: Nitrous oxide is about 300 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. But, despite the fact that more than 67 billion tons of nitrogen are stored in the Arctic permafrost, nearly all of the research on the impacts in the Arctic have focused on carbon releases. Vegetation and water can decrease the amount of nitrous oxide released to varying degrees, but this new study shows that up to a quarter of the Arctic could see significant releases of the gas along with carbon dioxide.

How they did it: Finnish scientists collected 16 samples of peat from Finland's Lapland region and slowly warmed them from underneath to simulate thawing in the lab.

The results: There was a fivefold increase in nitrous oxide emissions from samples of bare peat compared to the amount released when only the surface thaws, which happens seasonally. When plants or lichen were growing on top of a sample, emissions decreased by 90% and they were entirely suppressed in wet samples.

Go deeper

13 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 15 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.