Permafrost, defined as ground soil that has been at a freezing point of 0 degrees Celsius or below for at least two years in a row, has been covering at least 24% (per cent) of the whole Arctic region for thousands, or even tens of thousands, of years. According to e.g. the University of Copenhagen – Center for Permafrost, permafrost can go as deep as 700 meters where at its thickest, for example in parts of Russia and in Greenland. The Center for Permafrost at the University of Copenhagen reports that one of the risks of thawing permafrost is soil collapse as frozen ice melts into water.
Other risks of thawing permafrost, which is now taking place all over the Arctic, include the release of bacteria and toxic greenhouse gases; especially methane. Bacteria possibly spreading diseases could be released by decayed animals and plants that have, for thousands of years, been kept frozen under the thick layers of permafrost.
According to NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer, studying permafrost carbon is important to understand how thawing permafrost and the frozen organic matter within the permafrost react to the atmosphere if and when coming into contact with it. This because the frozen organic matter, if and when thawing, releases carbon dioxide and methane into Earth´s atmosphere. Until now, as reported in Geophysical Research Letters Vol. 43, 28 June 2016, there has been no significant increase in long-term methane emissions in Alaska despite of warming air temperatures.
Learn more about thawing permafrost in Alaska through American Geophysical Union AGU´s “FM15 Press Conference Alaska´s thawing permafrost Latest results and future projections”:
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