The Horrifying Impacts of Thawing Permafrost

What is Permafrost?

Permafrost is any type of land that continuously stays frozen for at least two years. This “land” can include any combination of soil, rocks, and sand that is held together by ice. Permafrost makes up roughly a quarter of the entire northern hemisphere; it is mainly found in Alaska, Siberia, Canada, Greenland, and in high-altitude areas such as the Alps. 

Furthermore, the surface of permafrost contains large amounts of organic carbon, which are essentially leftovers from dead plants that weren’t able to decompose because of the cold temperatures. 


What is Causing the Permafrost to Melt?

Global warming — as the temperature of the Earth rises, the ice inside of permafrost begins to thaw, which leaves behind soil and water. 

So, what’s causing global warming? Humans and their destructive activities, which include burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, farming livestock. These activities release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which traps heat. 


What is the Impact of Thawing Permafrost?

    • Increased Global Warming: As permafrost thaws, the organic carbon present in the surface of permafrost becomes able to decompose, which releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Furthermore, this creates a positive-feedback loop
      • Permafrost thaws → more organic carbon decomposes → increased amounts of greenhouse gases are released →  increased global temperatures → even more permafrost thaws. 
  • Destruction of Infrastructure: The ice that makes up permafrost greatly expands the ground. So, when that ice melts and turns into water, the ground contracts, creating cave-ins. As a result, the infrastructure of places built on top of permafrost breaks down. For example, in northern parts of Russia, city buildings and villages are collapsing while roads in Alaska are crumbling. In the end, people are displaced and are forced into homelessness. 
  • Modified Landscapes: Thawing permafrost can make soil more vulnerable to erosion and landslides. As a consequence, this soil could possibly enter waterways, altering the flow of rivers, which disrupts local aquatic ecosystems. In addition, these landslides can also make land unstable, disrupting natural habitats. Next, thawing permafrost contributes to rising sea levels, increasing the risk of flooding in various areas across the world. 
  • Diseases: Permafrost, especially the lands that have been frozen for hundreds of thousands of years, is home to ancient bacteria and viruses which we currently have no protection to. So, as permafrost thaws, these diseases are released into the world. Since we have no idea what these diseases could do, they might be able to kill millions of animals and humans. Only time will tell if we don’t do anything.


Amado Krsul

My name is Amado Krsul. I am a junior from Croatia who was raised in Bolivia and loves video games (mostly Apex Legends and Rocket League). My favorite food is paella. A word that would describe me would be industrious.

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