Thawing Permafrost

Posted: August 31, 2017
Category: Environment
Tags: environment, greenhouse gases, ice, melting, permafrost, thaw, water, weather

There is a huge thaw taking place in the extreme Northern regions of the planet as well as at the highest altitudes.  This means the global temperature is rising and permafrost is melting.

Permafrost is the frozen layer beneath the ground surface which has maintained a temperature below freezing for at least 2 years.  When this frozen layer thaws it can cause roads to collapse, runways to crack, homes to sink or fall into the sea, and trees to no longer be able to remain upright as the ground collapses. These collapses are referred to as “Slumps” or craters and the largest to date (in Siberia), is 282 feet deep and growing.

Permafrost is supporting much of the topography above it and when it melts and the ice becomes water, there is no longer a strong base and collapses happen.  This new water will create landslides, the dirt will compact and even a weather station and laboratory in the Austrian Alps had the mountain below it start to crumble when the permafrost melted requiring the outpost to be stabilized.  This melting permafrost in the Alpine regions is also leading to an increase in avalanches as mountains become unstable. The ecology of the region is also severely impacted.  As the ground thaws, disintegrates, then slumps, huge amounts of mud and silt are washed into the streams and rivers making them murkier and limiting the growth of aquatic plants, the food source for the larger fish. Scientists are also reporting increases in the minerals in the water of the major rivers and fear they may impact the ecology of the Oceans. The change in the topography is also disrupting caribou breeding and migration, further impacting the food sources of the local residents.

toppling trees

As the ground thaws, trees are toppling as the ground collapses.

The other greatest threat caused by this thaw is the release of the greenhouse gases stored in the permafrost.  Scientists estimate there is twice as much carbon stored in permafrost than there is currently in the atmosphere.  As the permafrost melts the carbon and methane are released.  If the permafrost that melts is under a lake, methane will bubble up to the surface and be trapped under the ice.  If the ice cover is pierced and a flame applied the methane will burst into flame as it shoots upward.


This is creating a vicious circle.  As the methane and CO2 are released from the thawing permafrost the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere leads to more thawing of the permafrost.  Even the great mountain ranges, the Alps and Pyrenees, are now at risk as the permafrost and glaciers supporting these ranges are starting to thaw.  As this occurs landslides and avalanches become much more frequent and severe.

Any person nor any place in the world is untouched or unaffected by this important issue.  Global warming is an issue which we must take seriously!


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