What is Permafrost? What Is Permafrost Made Of? What are the consequences of Permafrost thawing? Read all about this
The primary cause of the 20,000-tonne oil leak at a Russian power station in the Arctic area is now recognized to have been the sinking ground surface caused by permafrost thawing.
Also, read about Cold deserts in India.
What is Permafrost?
- Permafrost is any ground that remains completely frozen—32°F (0°C) or colder—for at least two years straight.
- The higher latitudes and elevations of Earth—close to the North and South Poles—are where these permanently frozen lands are most prevalent.
- At lower latitudes, permafrost is found at high-altitude locations such as the Alps, the Tibetian plateau, South American Andes, the Rocky mountains etc.
- The permafrost is believed to have formed during glacial periods dating several millennia.
- Permafrost covers a huge section of the planet. Over 25% of the area in the Northern Hemisphere is covered with permafrost.
- Although the surface layer that covers permafrost, known as the “active layer,” is constantly frozen. The active layer freezes in the winter and thaws in the summer. Even in the summer, the ground in frigid areas rarely thaws. The active layer is barely 4 to 6 inches thick there (10 to 15 centimetres). The active layer can reach heights of several metres in permafrost regions that are warmer.
- Its thickness gradually decreases towards the south and is influenced by various additional elements, including the heat of the planet’s interior, the amount of snow and vegetation, the presence of water bodies, and geography.
What is Permafrost made of?
- Ice holds together a mixture of soil, boulders, and sand to form permafrost. In permafrost, the soil and ice remain frozen throughout the year.
- Near the surface, permafrost soils are also rich in organic carbon, which is a by-product of dead plants that the cold prevented from decomposing or rotting away. Soils comprised primarily of minerals can be found in the lower permafrost layers.
- The dead remains of plants, animals, and microbes that were frozen before they could decompose can be found in great quantities beneath the surface of permafrost. It also contains a vast collection of pathogens.
- Permafrost thawing means the ice inside the permafrost melts, leaving behind water and soil.
- Peat, the partially decomposed vegetation that accumulates in water-saturated conditions without oxygen, helps to preserve permafrost from the effects of climate change. Peat, which can cover or completely enclose the active layer or be frozen as permafrost, is a common substance throughout much of the low Arctic.
- Arctic warming: The pace of temperature change in the Arctic is currently the highest in the past 2,000 years, with the region rising twice as quickly as the rest of the planet. Temperatures in the Arctic permafrost were 3.5 degrees Celsius higher in 2016 than they were at the start of the 20th century.
- Wildfires can peel back the peat and make permafrost more sensitive to climate change and hence leading to thawing.
- Positive feedback loop: It will speed up warming when permafrost releases its carbon as CO2 or methane, which will subsequently cause more permafrost to melt.
Consequences of Permafrost thawing
- Infrastructure collapse: Many constructions are there on permafrost. Permafrost is more durable than concrete when it is frozen. Permafrost thawing, however, can ruin buildings, roads, and other infrastructure. Using the Thermal Power Plant of Norilsk-Taimyr Energy as an example, a fuel storage tank failed.
- Altered landscapes: As temperatures rise, the permafrost’s binding ice melts, leaving the ground unstable and increasing the likelihood of significant landslides, floods, and potholes.
- Emission of Greenhouse gases: Microbes start breaking down this substance as the permafrost thaws. Methane and carbon dioxide are two greenhouse gases that are released during this process. Permafrost grounds could release greenhouse gases equivalent to 4-6 years’ worth of coal, oil, and natural gas emissions for every 1 degree Celsius increase in average temperature, according to research, becoming a significant contributor to climate change in and of itself.
- Release of microorganisms: Ancient bacteria and viruses present in the soil and ice also defrost when permafrost melts. Animals and humans could become seriously ill from these recently unfrozen microorganisms. In permafrost that has thawed, researchers have found bacteria that are more than 400,000 years old.
- Both Arctic animals and indigenous people are in danger of thawing.
- Reducing our carbon footprint.
- Investing in energy-efficient products.
- Supporting climate-friendly businesses, legislation, and policies.
In comparison to the near eradication of permafrost under our current warming trajectory, 55 to 70% of the permafrost land area might be preserved if countries adhere to the Paris Agreement and keep the global average temperature to 1.5 to 20C over pre-industrial levels.
Article Written by: Remya