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The Permafrost Thaws

IMG_0262Article corrected 23rd March 2011. An article from Canada’s North this week may have slipped under the radar due to the high profile of the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear risks that are gripping Japan.

Recent studies indicate the permafrost of the southern Arctic is deteriorating at an alarming rate. In some regions of what is called the discontinuous zone, close to the tree line, where permafrost exists in patches, there has been an estimated 50-per-cent decrease in permafrost coverage in the last 50 years…

Another elder in the community Donald Cameron describes himself as “very very worried” about the changes connected to climate change and the deteriorating permafrost. “In the last five years, we’ve seen strange animals we’ve never seen here before – robins, dragonflies, wasps and bees,” said Cameron

Source: Vancouver Sun – Permafrost Thaw Shifts Land, Lives

While the Japanese situation is a state of emergency that has cost thousands of lives and will cost billions of dollars to fund any semblance of a recovery. These quiet articles about Canada’s North are pieces in a much bigger puzzle for the changes to weather patterns and global sustainability. Last year, the ice roads in Northern Manitoba closed as truckers were stranded in March, another sign of the impacts of changing weather

Just like the impact of leaking radiation from the Japanese nuclear power plants is likely a tipping point for the future of nuclear power globally, we should be seeing the presence of southern species in the arctic as a harbinger of change. If it is warm enough to support these creatures, the threats described in this article may come to fruition:

“Heat generated from increased microbial activity could lead to sustained and long-term chronic emissions of carbon dioxide and methane,” Canadell of the Canberra, Australia-based group said.

Source: Arctic CO2 Underestimated

and this sober assessment of the situation:

”The greening of the Arctic will not compensate for the huge amount of permafrost carbon that will be released”, the report’s primary writer, ecologist Ted Schuur explained.
The total amount of carbon contained in the world’s permafrost is over 100 billion tons – more than 15 per cent of the atmospheric carbon level…

By way of contrast to fossil fuel incineration, which could be suppressed, the naturally ongoing process of permafrost thaw would be much tougher to control – a point made by Schuur.

“It’s not an option to be putting insulation on top of the tundra”, Schuur said.
“If we address our own emissions either by reducing deforestation or controlling emissions from fossil fuels, that’s the key to minimising the changes in the permafrost carbon pool.”

Source: Impact of Melting Permafrost

I’m sure the arctic gets less attention than it deserves due to it’s remoteness and a belief that we, as humans, couldn’t possibly be responsible for that much damage.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.