Permafrost, The Time Bomb Our Children Face

25th November  2016

 

Permafrost, The Time Bomb Our Children Face

Permafrost is soil that is permanently maintained at 0°C or lower. Such conditions are found in high latitude environments, covering roughly a quarter of Earth’s surface, Alaska, Canada and Greenland. These large amounts of organic matter have accumulated over hundreds of thousands of years are stored in the permafrost.

It is estimated that permafrost soils could contain approximately 1,700 gigatonnes of Carbon nearly twice that amount of carbon in atmospheric reserves. If the permafrost were to melt all the methane and carbon dioxide would enter into our atmosphere, if the apocalyptic scenario of permafrost - warming enough for these gases to be released ever happens, it could mean the end of life as we know it.

The World has known about global warming since the early 1970s and it had always been assumed that the permafrost was safe from warming up and releasing its harmful gases until the 22nd century – long after we have all shuffled off this mortal coil. A recent study suggests the permafrost could thaw much sooner.

In fact, the permafrost in the Alaskan region could start thawing by 2070, according to scientists in Russia. The permafrost ranges in depth from about three feet below the surface to about 5,000 feet below. It is solid and frozen and hopefully it will stay that way. Once this layer melts, methane gases released into the atmosphere would severely accelerate global warming.

The big question is, “Have we reached the tipping point?” The point of no return, the stage where we cannot stop the inevitable. For decades it has always been believed the permafrost will not thaw until at least the early part of the 22nd century, now it looks like it could be 2070 when the permafrost will have melted enough to create deadly methane gases and carbon dioxide gas releases into our atmosphere.

To exacerbate the nightmare scenario, there have been a number of forest fires in Alaska over the past few years – which really aren’t helping matters. Russian scientists have spoken of a number of large sink holes appearing on the Yamal Peninsula in the Siberian wastelands of northern Russia.

Already there are signs in Alaska that the permafrost is melting. So-called “drunken forests” litter the state’s interior – these are forests where all the trees seem to be leaning at varying angles and some have actually fallen over completely (even though they are not actually dead). What has occurred is that for hundreds of years the roots were held by the frozen deep soil and now this has melted the trees are not being held firmly in position.

This could be a sign of things to come...