Melting permafrost is one of the most potentially devastating but least talked about elements of climate change. It refers to the potential release of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere from currently frozen ground in circumpolar areas.
This is ultimately caused by global warming from climate change. The burning of fossil fuels is causing the earth to heat up and melt polar caps and permafrost areas.
You can combat this threat by using clean energy sources like solar power and even get some extra financial benefits while you’re at it.
Why Do We Need to Worry About Permafrost?
Permafrost is defined as any ground that is completely frozen for two or more years. However, in the context of climate change, it means something far more concerning.
In the Northern Hemisphere, permafrost accounts for about 9 million square miles—just a little less than the United States. These frozen grounds trap organic carbon under the earth's surface.
If this land is melted, gasses like carbon dioxide and methane will get released into the atmosphere, where they will trap solar radiation and lead to rising temperatures.
Additionally, ancient viruses and bacteria could be released, causing potential issues for life on earth.
Most of the earth's permafrost is found in the north and south poles because of the low temperatures required to keep the ground frozen. However, global warming from climate change threatens to change that situation.
Where are most of the permafrost areas?
Permafrost can only survive in cold climates. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), permafrost can be soil, sand, or rock. It must be below freezing (32 °F) for at least two years to qualify as permafrost.
Per the NSIDC, permafrost accounts for about 25% of the exposed surface in the northern hemisphere. Exposed surface means ground that is not covered by glacial ice. Most of the Northern Hemisphere's permafrost is found in Alaska, Canada, and Russia.
What is permafrost made of?
Permafrost is a combination of a variety of soils and minerals. In essence, it's rock, sand, and soil glued together by ice. However, close to the surface, permafrost contains carbon. This matter is from dead plants and animals that couldn't fully decompose because of the cold.
The top layer of permafrost isn't frozen year-round. It freezes and melts according to the temperature. Depending on the area, this active layer is between a few inches and a few meters thick.
Why climate change is causing permafrost to melt
Climate change is causing rising global temperatures. As the earth gets warmer, ice and snow are melting. This process happens at the active layer of permafrost too.
What will happen if the permafrost melts?
Several grave consequences will occur if the permafrost melts.
- More greenhouse gasses: As we explained above, permafrost regions trap a lot of uncompressed carbon. If the permafrost melts, microbes will eat into this material, releasing gas and bacteria into the atmosphere. More carbon dioxide and methane means more greenhouse gasses.
- Infrastructure damage: Many areas around the Northern Hemisphere are built on top of permafrost. When temperatures are low, this ground is as hard as a rock. If it melts away, it can cause instability that destroys infrastructure, cities, roads, and more.
- Bacteria and viruses: As strange as it might seem, permafrost is so cold that it traps ancient bacteria and viruses. These potentially damaging microbes can be hundreds of thousands of years old. Thawing permafrost could release bacteria from the ice, which could harm human and animal health.
What is the current situation with permafrost?
Arctic temperatures have risen between 1.5 and 2.5 Celsius over the last 30 years. Experts suggest that a 3 degrees Celsius rise in temperature would melt between 30% to 85% of the permafrost in the Arctic regions. This situation would cause the destruction we've outlined above.
What can you do about permafrost?
It's easy to feel powerless about the environmental situation. However, climate change solutions exist.
One of the most effective ways to reduce global temperatures is to switch to green, sustainable energy sources.
Solar panels are one of the best changes we can all make to combat climate change. SmartSolar.org can connect you with the best solar suppliers in your area to help make these necessary changes.
Thankfully, a lot of great government initiatives exist to help people switch to solar energy.
To find out more about these benefits, check out the guide on how federal solar tax credits work.
Permafrost is one of the least acknowledged consequences of climate change. While it may not make the news regularly, it is a potentially deadly possibility.
Unless we get climate change and global warming under control, permafrost could cause damage in the Northern Hemisphere and beyond.
If you want to do your part in securing a better future by tackling climate change head-on, speak to the team at SmartSolar.org. They can provide advice on renewable energy options, such as solar power.