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You can think of the Arctic permafrost as a giant kitchen freezer.If you put organic (carbon-based) matter in your freezer, the food will stay intact. And as the bacteria consume the food, they produce carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases and chemicals that smell terrible.Abnormally high temperatures had thawed the corpses of long-dead reindeer and other animals.Some of these bodies may have been infected with anthrax, and as Wired explained, the soil in Siberia is normally much too cold to dig deep graves.“Plants are growing in permafrost regions, and when those plants die, because of the cold temperature, they don't fully decompose, so some of that organic carbon is left behind,” Holmes says.When the permafrost thaws, “it starts to rot, it starts to decompose, and that's what's releasing carbon dioxide and methane,” he says.Long-dormant microbes — some trapped in the ice for tens of thousands of years — are beginning to wake up, releasing equally ancient C02, and could potentially come to infect humans with deadly diseases.

But rising air temperatures in the region are chipping away at this bedrock.This is one reason scientists are so worried about a melting Arctic: When the bacteria turn the carbon in the Arctic into C02 and methane, it accelerates a feedback loop. A 2014 study in concludes, the melting permafrost and its resulting carbon feedback loops could contribute to 1.69°C of warming. It could be as low as 0.13°C of warming.) But these are just estimates, and they come with a good deal of uncertainty.The more methane and carbon released, the more warming. (There’s debate over how much greenhouse gases can be released out of the Arctic, and how long it would take.) It all depends on how quickly the Arctic warms.It acts like a giant freezer, keeping microbes, carbon, poisonous mercury, and soil locked in place. And things are getting weird and creepy: The ground warps, folds, and caves.Roadways built on top of permafrost have becoming wavy roller coasters through the tundra.

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