- Permafrost is essentially any ground that stays frozen, 0 degree Celsius or lower, for at least two years straight.
- These permanently frozen grounds are often found in Arctic regions such as Greenland, Alaska (the United States), Canada, Russia and Eastern Europe.
- According to NASA, permafrost is composed of a combination of soil, rocks and sand that are held together by ice. The soil and ice in permafrost stay frozen all year long.
- As Earth’s climate warms, the permafrost is thawing. That means the ice inside the permafrost melts, leaving behind water and soil.
- Thawing permafrost can have dramatic impacts on our planet and the things living on it.
Why in News?
- According to a study, thawing of permafrost in the Arctic region could result in the spread of toxic substances in the arctic region.
- The study noted that the Arctic is getting warmer nearly four times as fast as the rest of the planet due to climate change. As a result, permafrost is thawing rapidly, which could destabilise not only the industrial sites but also the contaminated areas.
- And once the destabilisation takes place, toxic substances would be unleashed across the region, threatening numerous species living there and the health of people who depend on them.
- According to the study, as of now, around 1,000 of the known industrial sites and 2,200 to 4,800 of the known contaminated sites are already at risk of destabilising due to thawing permafrost.
What are the other consequences of thawing permafrost?
- Thawing permafrost can severely impact the planet. One of its most dangerous consequences is the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- Arctic permafrost alone holds an estimated 1,700 billion metric tons of carbon, including methane and carbon dioxide. That’s roughly 51 times the amount of carbon the world released as fossil fuel emissions in 2019.
- Plant matter frozen in permafrost doesn’t decay, but when permafrost thaws, microbes within the dead plant material start to break the matter down, releasing carbon into the atmosphere.
- A 2022 study by Columbia University observed that thawing permafrost would unleash thousands of dormant viruses and bacteria. Some of these could be new viruses or ancient ones for which humans lack immunity and cures, or diseases that society has eliminated, such as smallpox or Bubonic plague.