The Arctic is having holes stabbed through it at an alarming rate

arctic circle

(Annie Spratt

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Abrupt melting of the permafrost layer is leading to erosion, landslides and craters in the Arctic landscape.
  • As the permafrost melts, greenhouse gases are released into the environment.
  • Current climate change forecasts may underestimate the emissions from permafrost because they only take into account gradual thawing of the ice layer.

Residents of the small Alaskan town Kongiganak can no longer bury their dead. Their cemetery has become a marshy swamp, sucking graves into the once frozen ground.

On the island of Sarichef near the Bering Strait, the village of Shishmaref is shrinking so fast locals are considering relocating it entirely.

Global warming has shown that permafrost is not so permanent after all. And as it begins to melt, it is reshaping the Arctic.

 

The rapidly thawing ice layer is creating great sinkholes and hollows across the region as the ground begins to collapse in on itself. Erosion and landslides have become a problem without the ice that once held the soil together.

Permafrost thaw ponds in Hudson Bay Canada near Greenland
Permafrost thaw ponds in Hudson Bay, Canada
Image: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

Permafrost – any area of land that remains frozen for at least two years – can vary from less than a metre thick to more than 1,500 metres. Some of it is tens of thousands of years old.

In some areas, it is simply frozen rock. But in other parts, soils and organic matter have acted like a sponge and taken in water which has subsequently frozen. As ice, water takes up a larger volume than its liquid form, but once melted, great pits are created in the land.

A problem multiplied

But the problem extends beyond an increasingly pock-marked landscape.

Scientists have known for years that melting permafrost will release greenhouse gases stored within and under it, creating a climate change feedback loop with the potential to warm our planet even faster. Rather than acting as a carbon sink, permafrost becomes a source of emissions.

The adverse effects of melting permafrost
Melting permafrost creates a vicious circle of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming
Image: UNEP

But the abrupt melting of the permafrost layer in some places, caused by warmer polar temperatures, could mean far more carbon is released than previously estimated, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience.

Less than one-fifth of the permafrost zone is likely to see this abrupt thawing, but its impact on the surrounding landscape means up to half of permafrost carbon could be affected.

Existing climate change models are based on gradual thawing of the permafrost layer caused by seasonal temperature fluctuations and fail to take into account the impact of more rapid thawing. This means we need to put in place measures to counteract human-induced emissions more quickly than we thought.

But David Olefeldt, who coauthored the paper in Nature Geoscience, warns against over-dramatizing the problem.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum’s Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

“The permafrost carbon feedback is not the proverbial climate bomb – but is it an important climate change accelerator which we do need to take into account.

“Future greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost [will be] significantly smaller than current human greenhouse gas emissions, but emissions from permafrost thaw are large enough that they are important to take into consideration when projecting future climate change and when setting emissions targets for international negotiations.”

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. Temperatures have risen by 1℃ in the last decade alone, causing ice sheets to melt and sea levels to rise while threatening wildlife.

Getting a handle on warming temperatures at our earth’s poles is crucial if we are to keep global warming within agreed limits.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Accountability for atrocities in Myanmar ‘cannot be expected’ within its borders – UN investigator

Here’s what keeps CEOs awake at night (and why it might be bad news for your next job)

Closing the gaps in accelerating women’s rights: the role of medical students

DiscoverEU: 15,000 travel passes up for grabs to explore the EU this summer

The European Parliament double-checks the EU 2014-2020 budget

Online radio and news broadcasts: Parliament and Council reach deal

The deforestation risks lurking in the banking sector

A renewed multilateralism fit for the 21st century: the EU’s agenda

Ebola in DR Congo: UN chief ‘outraged’ by recent killings of civilians and health workers

Europe faces economic turmoil as Italy gets closer to the Excessive Debt Procedure

What do toilets have to do with climate change?

Half the world’s population is still offline. Here’s why that matters

Microsoft says the internet is getting a little nicer

Sweden gives all employees time off to be entrepreneurs

This is how CO2 can be transformed into food for animals

UN genocide adviser welcomes historic conviction of former Khmer Rouge leaders

Global OECD welcomes Colombia as its 37th Member

From me to we: COVID-19 heralds a new model of entrepreneurship

Yemen update: UNICEF chief condemns attack in Taiz that claims lives of seven children

Permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) on the table of NATO Defense Ministers amid US concerns

‘Preserve, revitalize and promote’ indigenous languages, or lose a ‘wealth of traditional knowledge’, UN chief says

1 in 7 people would choose not to fly because of climate change

COP21 Breaking News_05 December: Carbon Price Needed for Climate Change Success

These countries are making ‘travel bubbles’ for post-lockdown tourism

As Houthi forces withdraw from key Yemeni ports, UN monitoring chief welcomes ‘first practical step on the ground’

How technology helped Serbia save 180 million sheets of paper in less than 4 years

UN peacekeepers warn of increasing global challenges

GSMA Mobile 360 Series – MENA in Dubai, in Association with The European Sting

Migration and rule of law on next ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly agenda

Closing the global gender gap – whose job is it anyway?

Sexuality and ageing: challenges of achieving sexual rights in people with HIV

ECB reaches the boundaries of its mandate to revive the entirety of Eurozone

ILO warns of widespread insecurity in the global labour market

A record number of people will need help worldwide during 2020: Global Humanitarian Overview

EU Trust Fund for Africa: Can it be beneficial for Italy and tackle the migration crisis in the Mediterranean?

Business is a crucial partner in solving the mental health challenge

From G7 announcement in August to Paris Peace Forum, Business for Inclusive Growth (B4IG) coalition gains momentum

World Youth Skills Day: What you need to know for 2020

UN chief ‘deeply concerned’ by military escalation in northwest Syria

ESCALAR: up to €1.2 billion to help high potential companies grow and expand in Europe

Car industry: New rules on cleaner and safer cars start to apply across Europe

Media freedom: EP warns of attempts to silence critics and undermine pluralism

ECB doesn’t dare touch Eurozone’s big banks

On our way to China

EU’s Finance Ministers draft plan to raise tax bills of online giants like Google and Amazon

Australian solar could power Singapore within a decade

COVID-19 : Have we learnt any lessons at all from last year?

UN food agency begins ‘last resort’ partial withdrawal of aid to opposition-held Yemeni capital

Are the G20 leaders ready to curb corporate tax-avoidance?

These countries are pioneering hydrogen power

Number of members in Parliament’s committees to change after Brexit

Don’t underestimate the power of the fintech revolution

UK’s PM Theresa May asks for a two-year Brexit transition plan as negotiations round kicks off

Sustainable development demands a broader vision, says new OECD Development Centre report

Eurozone again whipped by Greek winds

Clean energy will do to gas what gas has done to coal

Belarus, climate action, COVID-19: MEPs assess EU summit results

UN appeals for international support as flood waters rise in wake of second Mozambique cyclone

System value can power the energy transition in emerging markets

Telemedicine in Brazilian favelas: The medicine of social isolation transforming public health

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s