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More Bad News as Canadian Arctic Melts

Permafrost thawing 70 years sooner than expected, with consequences
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 19, 2019 9:30 AM CDT
Depressions and ponds caused by thawing permafrost, known as thermokarst, are seen in Hudson Bay, Canada, in 2008.   (Wikimedia/Steve Jurvetson)

(Newser) – In 2016, researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks hopped in a plane, heading for remote sites in the Canadian Arctic. "What we saw was amazing," Vladimir Romanovsky tells Reuters. "It's an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years." In yet another sign of a climate crisis, researchers found Arctic permafrost—made of ice from the last glaciation—is thawing 70 years sooner than the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had predicted. As a result, the Arctic landscape is littered with deep depressions and ponds, some sprouting vegetation. Underneath, abrupt thawing is taking place. And as soil microbes mix with natural reservoirs of organic carbon, carbon dioxide and methane are produced, speeding up warming, according to NASA, which notes the process "is not currently accounted for in climate projections."

At one site, the ground had sunk 35 inches over the course of the 2003-2016 study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, per Live Science. "It's a canary in the coal mine," says co-author Louise Farquharson. "It's very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region." The CBC notes homes in the Northwest Territories are at risk of falling into the ocean. At the same time, there have been landslides, and parts of a gravel highway have collapsed. Climate-related maintenance costs on the road totaled $5.1 million in 2016. "As the ice-rich permafrost thaws, the ground settles proportional to how much ice there is in the ground" so "these types of phenomena are going to become more and more commonplace," permafrost scientist Steve Kokelj tells the outlet, describing permafrost as "sort of the glue that holds the northern landscape together." (Norway is struggling with this, too.)

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