What is thawing permafrost? It may be difficult to understand for those who have lived their lives in completely different climates and environments than the climate and environment in the Arctic region.
Permafrost is unique to the Arctic region and Antartica, the first being the geographical region surrounding the North Pole, and the latter being the geographical region surrounding the South Pole. Now we are discussing the thawing permafrost in the Arctic region, which poses several risks for our whole planet, not only for the Arctic region.
Permafrost, as defined e.g. by the International Permafrost Association, is ground soil that remains at 0 degrees Celsius or below for at least two years in a row. Permafrost can be as thick as four (4) meters.
Now that much of the permafrost in the Arctic region is thawing, i.e. melting, due to climate change and warming, this poses several environmental and health risks both in the Arctic and elsewhere on our planet. Why?
When permafrost thaws, decayed plants and animals below the permafrost become exposed, beginning to release bacteria and huge amounts of greenhouse gases, especially methane, which is many times stronger a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Why is this such a risk for our environment and overall climate on Earth?
Some of the possible consequences of thawing permafrost are yet unknown. However, if and when bacteria and greenhouse gases (methane) from decayed organisms, previously held in captivity within permafrost, get exposure to our atmosphere, the probability of bacteria spreading diseases grows. In addition, powerful greenhouse gases will be released into our atmosphere, warming our climate faster and faster. Methane is at least 22 times as powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This is why methane is often referred to by climate scientists as a possible climate amplifier and an environmental wildcard: its consequences are yet unknown, and it could lead to sudden changes in Earth´s overall climate if and when getting into contact with Earth´s atmosphere.
Learn more about thawing permafrost and its risks by watching National Science Foundation´s video “Thawing Permafrost – Changing Planet”:
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