Thawing Permafrost Is Poised to Unleash Havoc in The Arctic, Scientists Warn

According to a comprehensive scientific review, the region's critical infrastructure and life on the planet are threatened by the billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases in the permafrost.

A study published this week by Nature shows that 70% of the roads, cities, and industry built in Russia are vulnerable to damage by the mid-century.

Methane and CO2 escaping from long-frozen soil could accelerate warming and overwhelm global efforts to cap the rise in Earth's temperature at livable levels according to a study.

The studies report that exposure of highly combustible organic matter no longer locked away by ice is also fueling unprecedented wildfires.

Since 1850, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has tripled, and the land mass of the northern hemisphere has been blanketed by permafrost.

It is ground that has been below zero degrees Celsius for more than two years, though much of it is thousands of years old.

Over the last 50 years, the temperature in the region has risen two to three times more quickly than the world as a whole.

The region has seen a number of weather anomalies, with temperatures in the winter reaching 40C above average.

The researchers note that the rate of thaw and potential old carbon release has been raised by the fact that the temperature of thefrost has warmed by an average of 0.4C over the last decade.

There are zombie fires.

Their study shows that a loss of 4 million square kilometers of permafrost is possible under a scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

Warming temperatures are not the only cause of melting.

The researchers point out that the layer of permafrost is rapidly expanding due to the wildfires.

By the mid-century, these fires are projected to increase to 350 percent, releasing more and more carbon into the atmosphere.

Warming causes buried organic carbon to be more flammable, which causes "zombie fires" that smolder throughout frigid winters before sparking again in the spring and summer.

"These below-ground fires could release legacy carbon from environments previously thought to be fire- resistant," Miner and colleagues warn.

The region's infrastructure is the most immediate threat.

A study led by Jan Hjort, a scientist at the University of Oulu, states that the northern hemisphere's permafrost supports some 120,000 buildings, 40,000 kilometers of roads and 9,500 kilometers of pipes.

The study noted that the strength of the soil drops as temperatures rise above the melting point.

Russia has several large cities and a large industrial plant that sit atop frozen soil.

Most of the buildings in the city of Vorkuta are showing signs of being damaged by shifting permafrost.

In the Russian Arctic, nearly half of the oil and gas fields are located in areas with permafrost hazard.

There was a sudden collapse.

In 2020, a fuel tank in Norilsk, Siberia, suddenly sank into the ground, spilling over 21,000 tonnes of diesel into nearby rivers.

The plant's foundation was weakened by the thawing permafrost.

North America doesn't have large industrial centers built on permafrost, but tens of thousands of kilometers of roads are vulnerable.

Scientists have known for a long time how much carbon may be released as the soil in the north warms.

The impact of Earth's rising temperature is not adequately taken into account because permafrost dynamics are not included in Earth system models.

They warn that this is true for the sudden structural collapse of permafrost.

It is still not certain if climate shifts will cause the region to become drier or wet.

The answer has a lot of implications.

Plants will offset some or all of the carbon emissions from the permafrost.

CO2 emissions from decomposing soils and the amount of fuels for wildfires will increase in a browner, drier Arctic.

Half of the 30 million square kilometers of frost is in the northern part of the planet. The last ice age ended at the end of the sea.

Agence France-Presse.