- 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 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (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.” However, although the ground remains perennially frozen, permafrost regions aren’t always covered with snow.
Permafrost thawing in the arctic
- Arctic region houses countless industrial facilities such as oilfields and pipelines, mines and military bases.
- All this infrastructure is built on permafrost, which was once believed to be perennially stable and reliable.
- The toxic waste from these industrial facilities has been buried in the permafrost, on the assumption that it would stay locked away permanently.
- But as the Arctic is getting warmer nearly four times as fast as the rest of the planet due to climate change, permafrost is thawing rapidly.
- Rapid thawing of permafrost could destabilize not only industrial sites but also the contaminated areas, leading to an increase in toxic substances being unleashed across the region.
- This could have an adverse impact on faunal species as well as on the health of humans.
- Nearly 4,500 industrial facilities in the permafrost regions have most likely produced between 13,000 and 20,000 contaminated sites.
- One of its most dangerous consequences is the release of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) into the atmosphere.
- A 2022 report by NASA said, “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.
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.