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Arctic Permafrost No Longer Freezes… Even in Winter

By: 
Robert Hunziker

Global warming is starting to hit hard like there’s no tomorrow, and at current rates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, there may not be a tomorrow, as emissions continue setting new records year-by-year, expected to hit a 62-year record in 2019.  So much for the Paris 2015 climate agreement!

The most sensitive areas to global warming, (1) the Arctic (almost all of its multi-year ice, or old ice, is gone — already melted), and (2) East Antarctica, the coldest spot in the planet… strangely melting, and (3) Siberian ground that “no longer freezes in winter” are three occurrences that should keep world leaders up late into the night, blankly staring at the ceiling.

In fact, over the past couple of decades global warming has groomed ultra-dangerous climate upheavals that could destroy sizeable swaths of civilization. But how soon remains an open question? 

Moreover, there are several ecosystem flash points with enough potential to massively destroy large segments of life right now, which, in fact, is already happening in real time, and scientifically documented, with nearly total loss of arthropods in the tropical rain forests of Mexico and Puerto Rico as a result of excessive global warming, which can destroy populations of arthropods by inhibiting reproduction and disorienting internal organ functionality. (See- Climate-Driven Declines in Arthropod Abundance Restructure a Rainforest Food Web, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: https://www.pnas.org/content/115/44/E10397)

According to the scientists that conducted the 40-year rainforest studies in Mexico and Puerto Rico, rainforest temperatures exceeded the dreaded 2° C post-industrial guardrail. (Maybe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is on to something by insisting the world must not allow temps to exceed 2° C, post-industrial.)

Another ecosystem flash point of major concern is the failure of Arctic ground to freeze — even in the winter, in turn, exposing permafrost to thawing. This is unheard of, and it defies claims by many Republicans in Congress that say climate change/global warming is a hoax, or they often times fall back on the time-worn hackneyed statement: “The climate always changes.” 

Failing to recognize the several ominous threats of global warming, especially now that the ground cover protecting permafrost from thawing is not freezing in the Arctic wintertime, is comparable to applying for lifetime membership in the Flat Earth Society. After all, some things in life are so bloody obvious that denial is tantamount to imbecility or brainlessness, traits that are not DNA inclusive, rather symbolic of a deadness bordering on lunacy.

If not global warming, then what’s behind Arctic ground not freezing in the dead of winter, exposing permafrost to thaw, and East Antarctica, the world’s coldest spot, starting to melt? 

In that regard, National Geographic ran a story a couple of months ago entitled: “Some Arctic Ground No Longer Freezing — Even in Winter” d/d August 20th, 2018. 

Here’s a snippet: “Could a thaw of permafrost begin decades sooner than many people expect in some of the Arctic’s coldest, most carbon-rich regions, releasing trapped greenhouse gases (GHG) that could accelerate human-caused climate change?” 

Ipso facto, signage needs to be posted in northern Siberia with big bold red lettering: “Caution… Area Subject to Massive Release of Greenhouse Gases and Runaway Global Warming!”

Still, smart-alecky people may query: Runaway Global Warming (RGW), so what? Answer: Check out Australia at year-end 2018 when all-time sustaining record temperatures brought destruction of biblical proportions, melted highways, thousands of bats deathly falling in city streets, massive losses of fishes, and fruit that “cooked from the inside out.” Yes, believe it or not, cooked from the inside out! But, that’s only a sampler of what’s in store with full-scale planetary RGW. It’ll take one’s breath away… literally!

RGW is not outside the realm of possibility; according to National Geographic, there’s plenty of carbon trapped in permafrost: “Every winter across the Arctic, the top few inches or feet of soil and rich plant matter freezes up before thawing again in summer. Beneath this active layer of ground extending hundreds of feet deeper sits continuously frozen earth called permafrost, which, in places, has stayed frozen for millennia.” 

But the ground cover for permafrost did not freeze-up in a region of the Arctic where temperatures typically dip to –40° F, and where permafrost has always remained frozen since time immemorial.

That same article goes on to describe some details about the discovery of ground cover for permafrost not freezing in winter: “The discovery has not been peer-reviewed or published and represents limited data from one spot in one year. But with measurements from another scientist nearby and one an ocean away appearing to support the Zimovs’ findings, some Arctic experts are weighing a troubling question: Could a thaw of permafrost begin decades sooner than many people expect in some of the Arctic’s coldest, most carbon-rich regions, releasing trapped greenhouse gases that could accelerate human-caused climate change?” 

Is that how Runaway Global Warming starts? Probably!

Not only that, but throughout the Arctic, change is happening lightning fast in geological terms, e.g., 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Norway temperatures reached 90°F this past spring. In other words, the Arctic is cookin’. 

Nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere landmass sits on permafrost trapped in frozen soil that contains twice the amount of carbon that’s already in the atmosphere, which is a surefire deadly formula for trouble.

The jury is still out on the National Geographic article. Hopefully, it is not a major trend throughout the Arctic, but ominously, it’s popping up in other Arctic permafrost regions. Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost expert at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks found freeze-ups of permafrost shifting from mid-January to as late as March, happening since 2014.

Additionally, from National Geographic: “‘It’s worrisome,’ says Sue Natali, a permafrost expert, also with Woods Hole, who saw an active layer not re-freeze recently during a research trip to Alaska’s Yukon region. ‘When we see things happening that haven’t happened in the lifetime of the scientists studying them, that should be a concern.’”

The stakes in the Arctic are high. It’s common knowledge that if permafrost layers are consistently exposed to thawing, consequences can be hard, fast and not pleasant. Counter-intuitively, once it’s unfrozen, permafrost can potentially release GHG year-round, not only in summertime. And, that’s a huge problem without a solution, unless well beforehand Homo sapiens halts GHG emissions. No chance.

Robert Hunziker
Los Angeles