Permafrost: What You Should Know

Permafrost is soil that is frozen all year round. It is therefore also called permafrost. Sometimes one simply speaks of permafrost for short.

There is permafrost where it is very cold, i.e. in the Arctic, in the Antarctic, or in their vicinity. The tundra and the taiga are particularly affected. Greenland is almost entirely covered by permafrost, Alaska four-fifths, Russia half, and China about one-fifth. There is also permafrost in many mountains, for example in the Himalayas and in the Alps. The layer of permafrost can be a few meters up to 1500 meters thick.

Permafrost is very hard. Many roads were built on it. For houses, people usually drilled deep holes in the ground and put posts in them. The houses stand like stilt houses in the frozen ground. Many cable car stations and mountain restaurants are also located on such frozen ground.

Many animals and plants are deep-frozen in the permafrost, such as mammoths from the last ice age. This is very beneficial for scientists. You can extract the DNA from these dead creatures and thus find their blueprint. This is not possible with fossils.

What is climate change doing to permafrost?

In some places, the permafrost is thawing. Areas that used to be in the cold-temperate zone are now in the warm-temperate zone. As a result, individual plants and animals disappear and others settle in.

Many roads in these areas are no longer on the frozen ground but on mud. The road surfaces are cracked and entire sections of the road are in danger of sinking. Many houses are cracking or even collapsing because the ground beneath them is no longer solid.

In Norway, entire slopes threaten to slide down into the fjords. This can trigger tsunamis with waves over 40 meters high. In the Alps, when an entire slope slides into a reservoir, the water can slash over the dam and cause flooding further down the valley. Landslides can also directly threaten or even bury houses or entire villages.

Many restaurants and ski lift stations in the Alps are also at risk because they are on permafrost soil. Those in charge of these buildings started covering the area with foil in the spring to keep the snow underneath from melting, creating an insulating layer against the sun’s heat. It works, but it’s very expensive and you can only do it in small areas.

But the worst thing is that there is a lot of carbon dioxide trapped in the permafrost, twice as much as there is in the entire atmosphere. When the permafrost thaws, this carbon dioxide is released, increasing climate change. There are other gases in the permafrost such as methane and nitrous oxide. This amplifies climate change much more than carbon dioxide. This will thaw even more permafrost. So climate change is accelerating itself.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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