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Thawing Permafrost


Thawing Permafrost
Thawing Permafrost

What is Thawing Permafrost

  • With the rising temperatures due to global warming, the ice inside the permafrost melts, leaving behind water and soil, which can have dramatic impacts on our planet and the things living on it.
  • Climate indicator: By analyzing the Thawing Permafrost trends, we can assess the global and regional effects of climate change.
  • Climate Tipping Point: Researchers warn that Thawing Permafrost  in Europe and Western Siberia is much closer to a climatic tipping point than previous believed.
    • In climate science, a tipping point is a critical threshold that, when crossed, leads to large and often irreversible changes in the climate system.


Thawing Permafrost and climate change loop
Thawing Permafrost and climate change loop

Consequences of Thawing Permafrost

  • Intensifies Climate Change: The Thawing Permafrost will worsen the effects of the climate crisis, because stored carbon is released in the process.
  • Damage to infrastructure: As ice-filled Thawing Permafrost , it can turn into a mud slurry that cannot support the weight of the soil and vegetation above it and lead to collapse of Infrastructure such as roads, buildings, and pipes.
  • Altered landscapes: Thawing Permafrost alters natural ecosystems in many ways as well. It can create thermokarsts, areas of sagging ground, which may alter the flow of rivers and streams, degrade water quality, and impact aquatic wildlife.
  • Impacts on human health:
    • The Thawing Permafrost in the Arctic regions is causing some riverbanks to erode, thus making it harder to access clean water.
    • Thawing Permafrost exposes humans to the ancient bacteria, viruses and pathogens in the ice and the soil.
    • According to a new study, thawing of permafrost could expose the Arctic population to much greater concentrations of the invisible, lung cancer-causing gas Radon.


What is a Thermokarst Lake?

  • Thermokarst lakes form as a result of thawing of permafrost.
  • The permafrost contains massive wedges of ice locked within the ground. When the ice melts, the ground surface collapses and forms a sinkhole that is filled with water, creating a thermokarst lake.
  • They are known to emit methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) due to the microbial activity on the dead plants and organic matter in the previously frozen ground.


What is Permafrost?

  • About: Permafrost is a permanently frozen layer on or under Earth’s surface. It consists of soil, gravel, and sand, usually bound together by ice.
  • Features:
    • Permafrost can be found on land and below the ocean floor.
    • Its thickness can range from one meter to more than 1,000 meters.
    • Upper layer of permafrost known as ‘Active Layer’, that seasonally thaws, allowing for plant growth; this is an essential part of the tundra ecosystem.
  • Distribution:
    • It is found in areas where temperatures rarely rise above freezing i.e. often found in Arctic regions such as Greenland, the U.S. state of Alaska, Russia, China, and Eastern Europe.
    • Permafrost covers about 15% of the Northern Hemisphere or 11% of the global surface area.
Active Layer
Active Layer

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