Permafrost Melting Effects

A researcher in the field studying permafrost (Photo: AWI)A researcher in the field studying permafrost (Photo: AWI)Climate scientists have predicted that global warming will warm the earth of at least two degrees Celsius by the year 2100. Some say the figure could rise to 5 degrees. This will have significant effects on permafrost regions.

Climate change will lead to the earths warming, therefore melting large permafrost areas. The projections are that permafrost will though not disappear completely. A projected decline in the extent of permafrost will have a major impact on the Earth ecosystem, affecting global climate through the mobilization of carbon and nitrogen stored in permafrost.

The largest permafrost areas are in Siberia, where the thickest permafrost can also be found. In Central Siberia the soil can be frozen to a depth of over 1500 meters. Permafrost is also common in Alaska and Canada. Click the map on the right to expand it and see the main permafrost areas.

On the southern fringes of permafrost areas, where the permafrost is already relatively warm, it could disappear completely. Further north, much more soil could melt - perhaps up to 80 centimeters deep instead of 50 centimeters, as it is today.

In all these areas fauna and flora have to adjust. Where the soil was previously dry, it could become wet. Conversely, areas with many lakes can suddenly dry up, because of the thawing permafrost. The thawing can become so severe, that the permafrost becomes permeable and the lake water will seep into the underlying ground.

But humans could ultimately be effected as well, and in fact already have. In Siberia, railway lines have subsided and therefore are ruined. Many areas, in Siberia especially, could be affected since many things are built on permafrost. When the ground thaws, the foundation can fall, like the case with the railway lines. Same applies to some airport runways, roads and households, both in Siberia, Alaska and Canada.

Thawing permafrost can further make Oil pipelines unstable both in Russia, Alaska and Canada. The Trans-Alaskan pipeline system is in some places built on permafrost. If it would fall it could cause a major disaster. Houses have also fallen because of permafrost thaw, like the picture at the top shows.

Another aspect of the permafrost thaw is the methane buried under it. The effects of such greenhouse gas release are still unknown and further research on this is both needed and due. General consensus is that the permafrost thaw will lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Sources: PAGE21 IPA

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