Impacts of thawing permafrost will be regional – and global

alaska400x400A synthesis of multidisciplinary studies of permafrost research published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters finds that strong progress has been made in the overall understanding of permafrost-ecosystem dynamics – but also that there is much work to be done.

The synthesis and review paper summarizes the findings of 28 research papers compiled in a special focus issue of the journal dedicated entirely to the topic of regional and global consequences of arctic permafrost thaw. The various studies include observations and modeling of permafrost thaw dynamics, analyses of the feedbacks between permafrost and ecosystem processes, and the biogeochemical feedbacks to the climate system from permafrost thaw. The synthesis paper reviews the progress of the research thus far and additional studies required to better predict the complex interactions of permafrost, ecosystems and climate.

The authors of the synthesis, led by Dr. Guido Grosse of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, include some of the world’s most prominent permafrost researchers.

“This focus issue contains papers that represent a broad cross-section of what we currently know about permafrost thaw and its feedbacks to climate,” says co-author and WHRC Deputy Director Scott Goetz. “Our synthesis of those multiple lines of evidence highlights the magnitude and rapid rate of change underway in permafrost landscapes across the Arctic.”

The authors write that “new insights into the ecosystem-climate feedbacks resulting from permafrost changes on local to global scales” have raised the awareness of stakeholders, decision makers, and the public.

The special issue focuses on studies of the permafrost regions of Alaska, Canada, Northeast Siberia and Antarctica by some 130 scientists. Among the studies called for to improve understanding of the current and future changes in permafrost are those which provide a closer integration between field data, modeling and remote sensing. The synthesis overview calls for broad international research efforts, of which many are currently underway, “to understand and project how permafrost-affected ecosystems, covering … about a quarter of the northern landmass, will change in a warming Arctic and influence global climate in a rapidly changing Earth system.”

“Arctic permafrost regions are changing in sometimes surprisingly rapid ways, something that was not expected a decade or more ago,” says lead author Dr. Grosse. “This focus issue does a great job of bringing home the message that permafrost is not permanent anymore,” he adds, “and that our observed and projected changes will not stay just in the Arctic but rather affect us all.

Link to article: Changing permafrost in a warming world and feedbacks to the Earth system


WHRC is an independent research institute where scientists investigate the causes and effects of climate change to identify and implement opportunities for conservation, restoration and economic development around the world.