Permafrost is any earth material on or under the surface at or below 0 degrees Celsius for two or more consecutive years. The range of permafrost thickness can be from one meter to one mile and, in some cases, even beyond that. Permafrost can be found on land and even under the ocean floor. It is primarily found in places where temperatures rarely rise above freezing. Permafrost is often found in Arctic regions such as Greenland, the US state of Alaska, Russia, China, and Eastern Europe.
The top few inches (up to a few feet) of the permafrost is what’s known as the “active layer.” This topsoil does thaw with yearly seasonal changes and is home to a thriving ecosystem. If you go deep enough, you will arrive at a solid layer; the permafrost rising temperatures are chipping away at this layer. Every year, more permafrost grows closer to thawing and the “active layer” depth.
- Half the volume of permafrost may be frozen water. When this thaws, the water runs off and may head downhill, leaving a vacuum. The ground slumps and falls apart.
- For tens of thousands of years, permafrost has acted as a freezer, keeping 1,400 to 1,600 gigatons (billion tons) of plant matter carbon trapped in the soil.
- When plants growing in permafrost regions die, they don’t fully decompose because of the cold temperature, so some organic carbon is left behind.
When the permafrost thaws, this starts to rot and decompose, releasing carbon dioxide and methane. The average temperature of the Earth is rising at nearly twice the rate it was 50 years ago.
This rapid warming trend cannot be explained by natural cycles alone. The only way to describe the pattern is to include the effect of greenhouse gases emitted by humans, which have accelerated the rate at which permafrost has been thawing due to rising temperatures.
- Deforestation and Tree Clearing
- Burning of Fossil Fuels
- Fluorinated Gases
- Livestock Farming
These are indirect causes propagated through human activities that have led to a dramatic increase in global temperatures and fastened the permafrost’s thawing.
Oil Drilling and Mining are some of the more direct causes.
The impact caused can create huge repercussions, such as :-
- Release of Mercury
According to a study conducted by the University of Colorado, we were able to find out that permafrost contains the biggest pool of mercury on the planet.
– If mercury leaches out of the soil into surrounding waterways, it could be transported across waterways and taken up by microorganisms and transformed into methylmercury
-Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin and can have negative impacts on the cognitive, visual and cardiovascular well being of children and adults
-More mercury winds up in the high northern latitudes than anywhere else It’s already known to build up there in birds, fish, seals, walrus, polar bears, and some whales, even in areas thousands of miles from pollution sources.
2. Release of Methane and Carbon Dioxide
Permafrost in the Arctic alone, there are an estimated 1,400 gigatons of carbon are frozen in permafrost, making the Arctic one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. Thawing can also open pathways for methane to rise up from reservoirs deep in the Earth. Thawing permafrost will release large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, which will lead to rising global temperatures, which will lead to further permafrost thawing, which will lead to rising global temperatures And that trend is projected to continue through the rest of the century
3. Risk of Ancient Disease & Zombie Pathogens
Just as permafrost locks in carbon and other greenhouse gases, it can also trap – and preserve – ancient microbes. There maybe “a resurgence of anthrax, smallpox, and influenza” that have been frozen in permafrost for hundreds of years.
Diseases like the Spanish flu, smallpox, or the plague that have been wiped out might be frozen in the permafrost. As The Arctic warms, more activity, like mining for rare Earth or precious metals, could potentially put us in contact with them again.
4. Crumbling Infrastructure and Altered Landscapes
- Degradation of permafrost makes it difficult to build and maintain infrastructure, including roads, buildings, pipelines, and airports.
- Thawing permafrost alters natural ecosystems in many ways as well.