March 21, 2023


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Arctic permafrost thaw poses three threats, studies show

According to studies published this week in Nature, the dissolution of permafrost in the Arctic, which could release amazing amounts of greenhouse gases, threatens the local infrastructure and the planet even more widely.

Permafrost, the land that has been frozen for more than two consecutive years, covers an area of ​​30 million km2 on the planet, half of which is in the Arctic. It is twice the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and three times more than that released by human activity since the 1850s.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising more rapidly than in other parts of the world under the influence of climate change, ranging from 2 to 3 ° C compared to pre-industrial conditions. Continuous weather anomalies have also been reported in the region.

Permafrost experienced an average temperature rise of 0.4 C between 2007 and 2016.Raises concerns about rapid dissolution rate and potential for carbon release“, Says a study led by Kimberly Miner, a researcher at NASA’s JBL Space Research Center.

read more: Climate: In the Arctic, the melting of permafrost raises fears of greenhouse gas emissions.

Their study predicts that by 2100, about four million km2 of permanent ice will be lost, even if global warming is controlled.

Fire also plays a role, the study points out. These wildfires increased by 130% to 350% by the middle of the century, releasing more carbon from permafrost.


According to another study led by John Hjord, a researcher at the Finnish University of Oluvil, almost 70% of the roads, gas pipelines, oil pipelines, cities and factories built on permafrost are under immediate threat. Russia is particularly threatened.

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Nearly half of the oil and gas fields in the Russian Arctic are endangered by permafrost.

In 2020, a fuel tank broke and 21,000 tons of diesel spilled into nearby rivers as the foundation suddenly sank to the ground near Norilsk in Siberia. In North America, the threat hangs over roads and pipelines.

Carbon emissions

As the science of permafrost progresses, some questions remain, especially about the amount of carbon that can be released.

Permafrost dynamics are often not included in Earth system models“This means that the potential impact of global warming has not been adequately taken into account,” Kimberly Miner and his colleagues point out.

read more: Permafrost thaw: Vladimir Putin calls for better monitoring of buildings

Dissolution will lead to a greener Arctic, where it is not clear whether plants can absorb the released CO2, or whether the fire will intensify in a rather dry area.