alaskan permafrost under assault from warming climate

Es­ti­mated reading time is 2 min­utes.

THE TERM “PER­MAFROST” refers to ground that re­mains frozen for at least two straight years. Per­mafrost is most common in re­gions with high moun­tains and in higher lat­i­tudes; it covers large re­gions of the Earth. Al­though the ground is frozen, per­mafrost re­gions are not al­ways cov­ered in snow. Per­mafrost is made of a com­bi­na­tion of soil, rocks, and sand that are held to­gether by ice. Near the sur­face, per­mafrost soils con­tain large quan­ti­ties of or­ganic carbon from dead plants that couldn’t de­com­pose due to the cold. (NASA)

Get used to that word as we are going to be hearing lots more about it in the fu­ture. For ex­ample, here are a few para­graphs from “As cli­mate change melts Alaska’s per­mafrost, roads sink, bridges tilt and green­house gases re­lease” by Hal Bernton for The Seattle Times (De­cember 15, 2019):

“Alaska’s per­mafrost is under as­sault from a warming cli­mate, and it’s hap­pening a lot faster than an­tic­i­pated. Hill­side slopes have liq­ue­fied, un­leashing slides that end up as muddy deltas in salmon streams. The ground under the Nome air­port runway—key to linking the com­mu­nity to the out­side world—has thawed, re­quiring costly patches. And during the hottest July on record, a sink­hole 14 feet deep opened along a main roadway in the city.

For a re­gion where cli­mate change also is bringing pro­found changes off­shore, these are dis­rup­tive de­vel­op­ments. As the northern Bering Sea warms, bird and ma­rine mammal die-offs are on the rise and winter ice is on the de­cline, en­abling storms to gain strength over open water and slam into coastal com­mu­ni­ties like Teller.

The ac­cel­er­ating melt is a global con­cern: Per­mafrost, which mostly lies in the northern reaches of the planet, is a vast carbon store­house of frozen plants and an­i­mals that re­lease green­house gases as they warm and decompose.”

To read this ar­ticle in its en­tirety, click here.


Alaska permafrost cliff 1000

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is a cliff of per­mafrost along the Itkillik River in northern Alaska being eroded by the river. (Photo: Mikhail Kanevskiy / Uni­ver­sity of Alaska Fair­banks, In­sti­tute of Northern Engineering)


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