The melting of Arctic soil, which should never have melted, threatens the whole world, the study says

Permafrost, which does not normally thaw even in summer, covers 30 million square kilometers of the planet, about half of which are in the Arctic.

It contains twice the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and three times the amount that has been released into the air since 1850 due to human activity.

The Arctic is warming hard

Due to climate change, the temperature in the Arctic is rising faster than in the rest of the world, by two to three degrees Celsius compared to the temperature before the Industrial Revolution. Experts in the region have also noted a number of meteorological anomalies.

Eternally frozen soil, which by definition has had a temperature of 0 ° C or less for at least two years, recorded an average temperature increase of 0.4 degrees between 2007 and 2016.

“Rising permafrost temperatures raise concerns about the rapid melting and potential release of carbon dioxide,” said study author Kimberley Miner, who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Threats of fire and damage to infrastructure

According to the study, approximately four million square kilometers of perpetually frozen land will be lost by 2100, even if global warming is halted.

Research shows that fires will also play a role. The number of these uncontrollable phenomena could increase by 130 to 350 percent by the middle of the century, releasing more and more CO2 from the perpetually frozen soil.

According to another study led by Jan Hjort, a researcher at the University of Oulu in Finland, almost 70 percent of roads, pipelines, cities and factories built on permafrost are at immediate risk.

Russia is particularly at risk. Almost half of the oil and gas fields in the Russian Arctic are located in permafrost areas. In 2020, over 21,000 tons of diesel and lubricants leaked from the thermal power plant’s tank near the Russian city of Norilsk due to melting permafrost, which reached several rivers and lakes.

“There is not a single village in the Russian Arctic where we would not find a destroyed or at least damaged building,” Alexei Maslakov of Moscow State University said last year.

Houses are detached from collapsing land, roads need more and more repairs, pipelines and storage areas are at risk. With Russia warming 2.8 times faster than the global average, the melting of the long-frozen Siberian tundra is causing greenhouse gas emissions.

Researchers fear that this alone could frustrate global efforts to reduce global warming emissions.

Permafrost covers 65 percent of the Russian mainland and the cost of dealing with the effects of warming is already rising.

“If the current pace of warming continues, Russia could face seven trillion rubles (over two trillion crowns) in infrastructure damage by 2050,” warns Mikhail Zeleznjak, director of the Yakutsk-based Permafrost Research Institute.

It should be recalled that the Soviets built many buildings in the Far East and North in the 1960s and 1970s, when they expanded into the Arctic. However, many houses were designed on the assumption that frozen ground would not melt for millennia. E.g. the village of Čurapča with a population of ten thousand lost its airport due to the melting of permafrost in the 1990s.

Roads and oil pipelines are threatened by the melting of permafrost in North America.

Although scientific knowledge about permafrost is becoming more and more in depth, some questions remain unanswered, including how much carbon dioxide can be released.

According to US researchers, the melting of permafrost is not sufficiently taken into account in global warming models. It is also unclear whether melting will lead to afforestation of the Arctic region, where plants will be able to absorb the released CO2, or to dehydration of the area by more frequent fires.

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