Why thawing permafrost matters

phys.org | 1/12/2018 | Staff
TitanSwimr (Posted by) Level 3
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In Bethel, Alaska, walls are splitting, houses are collapsing, and the main road looks like a kiddy rollercoaster. In the coastal town of Kongiganak, sinking cemeteries prevent Alaskans from burying their dead in the ground. The village of Shishmaref, located on an island five miles from the western Alaska mainland, has eroded so much that it is contemplating total relocation. These communities are being plagued by permafrost that is thawing.

Permafrost is ground that remains frozen for two or more consecutive years. It is composed of rock, soil, sediments, and varying amounts of ice that bind the elements together. Some permafrost has been frozen for tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

Layer - Soil - Permafrost - Feet - Feet

Found under a layer of soil, permafrost can be from three feet to 4,900 feet thick. It stores the carbon-based remains of plants and animals that froze before they could decompose. Scientists estimate that the world's permafrost holds 1,500 billion tons of carbon, almost double the amount of carbon that is currently in the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, when permafrost warms and thaws, it releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. As the global thermostat rises, permafrost, rather than storing carbon, could become a significant source of planet-heating emissions.

Permafrost - Places - Problem - Spreads - Scientists

Permafrost is already thawing in some places, and if the problem spreads, scientists worry it could initiate a runaway process of global warming.

Permafrost covers about 24 percent of the exposed landmass of the Northern Hemisphere—about 9 million square miles. It is found at high latitudes and high altitudes, mainly in Siberia, the Tibetan Plateau, Alaska, Northern Canada, Greenland, parts of Scandinavia and Russia. The continental shelves below the Arctic Ocean, which were exposed during the last ice age, also contain permafrost.

Altitude - Regions - Places - Planet - Arctic

However, polar and high altitude regions are some the most climate-sensitive places on the planet. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the...
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