Arctic Permafrost Is Melting 70 Years Sooner Than Predicted

A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks was astonished to discover the speed at which Canadian Arctic permafrost is thawing. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had previously predicted that ice melt at the depth researchers discovered would not occur until 2090, when air temperatures would rise to sufficiently high levels.

But these scientists found that a series of unusually hot summers had already begun thawing giant ice blocks that had been frozen for millennia.

“What we saw is amazing,” said Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 years.” 

According to the National Geographic, “Permafrost is a permanently frozen layer below the Earth’s surface. It consists of soil, gravel, and sand, usually bound together by ice.” 

The study, published in the journal “Geophysical Research Letters,” found that Mould Bay on Prince Patrick Island was the site most affected by melting permafrost.

Romanovsky and his colleagues have been analyzing their data since their last visit to the Canadian Arctic in 2016, when they used a special propeller plane to access particularly remote sites. 

What they found shocked them. Instead of the pristine Arctic lands they had seen during visits a decade earlier:

The vista had dissolved in to an undulating sea of hummocks – waist-high depressions and ponds knows as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.

Sue Natali has seen those same images. Natali, who is an associate scientist at The Woods Hole Research Center, visited Duvanny Yar, Siberia in 2012 as a postdoctoral research fellow studying the effects of thawing permafrost.

She told the BBC’s Tim Smedley:

It was incredible, really incredible. I still get chills when I think about it… I just couldn’t believe the magnitude: collapsing cliffs the size of multi-story buildings… and as you walk along you see what look like logs poking out of the permafrost. But they aren’t logs, they are the bones of mammoths and other Pleistocene animals.

Massive Greenhouse Gas Release

But it’s not just ancient bones that are being revealed. As this frozen earth continues thawing out, it releases massive amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

When these gases enter the atmosphere, temperatures rise further, causing even more permafrost to melt — and so the cycle will continue.

All this melting permafrost essentially makes this region a new area on the highest emitters’ list, one that does not yet appear on the current IPCC models. 

“People talk about a carbon bomb,” says Natali. “In geological timescales this is not a slow release. It is a pool of carbon that is locked away and is not accounted for in the carbon budget to keep rises below two degrees (Celsius).”

We are looking at an even more dire climate emergency than we realized.

“Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it’s happening before our very eyes, “ said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. “This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately.”

Not that the Trump administration cares one bit about the future of the Earth. On June 19, the Environmental Protection Agency, which under Trump should be known as the “Environmental Destruction Agency,” announced the rollback of Obama-era regulations on emissions from coal plants.

This move is dangerous and cruel, and we must fight back.

Take Action!

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

242 comments

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Vikram S11 hours ago

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Janet B23 hours ago

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Magdalen Byesterday

And yet there are people in highest office who claim this is "fake noos"

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BobbyKat Lyesterday

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Alea C1 days ago

Care2 is still giving commenting points. (I said earlier that Care2 wasn't but I was wrong.

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Alea C1 days ago

I was wrong. Care2 just gave me my commenting points, so keep those comments coming!!! (I said earlier that Care2 didn't give me my commenting points.)

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