“Once permafrost starts to thaw, we cannot control how much carbon dioxide and methane is released by microbes into the atmosphere from thawing permafrost”

“If you’d asked permafrost researcher Vladimir Romanovsky five years ago if he thought the permafrost of the North Slope of Alaska was in danger of substantial thaw this century because of global warming, he would have said no. The permanently frozen soils of the northern reaches of the state are much colder, and so more stable than the warmer, more vulnerable permafrost of interior Alaska, he would have said. “I cannot say it anymore” he told journalists last month at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. New work Romanovsky presented at the conference suggests that if warming isn’t tempered, more than half of the permafrost of the North Slope (a region bigger than Minnesota) could thaw by century’s end. Such a thaw would imperil infrastructure, local ecosystems and potentially release more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Such a thaw would imperil infrastructure, local ecosystems and potentially release more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

Impacts in Alaska?

The information below is from the National Snow & Ice Data Center 

  • 80% of land in Alaska is underlain by permafrost. Permafrost near Alaska’s Arctic coast has warmed 4°F – 5°F at 65 foot depth since the late 1970s and 6°F to 8°F at 3.3 foot depth since the mid-1980s.
  • Permafrost, when it thaws, slumps, causes subsidence, slope instability and erosion. This can impact infrastructure such as buildings and roads, water quality, wildlife and subsistence/food security
  • In the Arctic, permafrost contains vast quantities of carbon that can be emitted, not only as carbon dioxide but also as methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. So you can get into a situation where the warming and wild fires are accelerating the loss of carbon from these landscapes and actually feeding climate change even further.” Nicky Sundt, WWF Climate Policy Analyst,  Smokejumper in 1980’s