Is Climate Change Thawing Permafrost?


Permafrost exists wherever the ground is frozen solid for two or more years. This can be in the Tropics at high elevation, Hawaii and Kilamanjaro, or in the Himalaya or the Swiss Alps; but the bulk of permafrost lies in a band of frozen ground circling across North America, Northern Europe and Asia. Siberia has the oldest and deepest permafrost at over 4,600 feet deep and several hundred thousand years old.

Permafrost has advanced and retreated as climate has changed in the past, but its borders move slowly, lagging climate change by some number of years. Scientists are monitoring and modelling permafrost to understand better the connections between climate change and the extent and duration of permafrost.

Since permafrost determines what shape the ecosystem in permafrost regions will have, small changes in the permafrost have big effects on the ecosystem. We spoke with Vladimir Romanovsky about his work studying permafrost in Russia and Alaska.

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