Author(s): Anisimov O, Reneva S
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Abstract The permafrost regions occupy about 25\% of the Northern Hemisphere's terrestrial surface, and more than 60\% of that of Russia. Warming, thawing, and degradation of permafrost have been observed in many locations in recent decades and are likely to accelerate in the future as a result of climatic change. Changes of permafrost have important implications for natural systems, humans, and the economy of the northern lands. Results from mathematical modeling indicate that by the mid-21st century, near-surface permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere may shrink by 15\%-30\%, leading to complete thawing of the frozen ground in the upper few meters, while elsewhere the depth of seasonal thawing may increase on average by 15\%-25\%, and by 50\% or more in the northernmost locations. Such changes may shift the balance between the uptake and release of carbon in tundra and facilitate emission of greenhouse gases from the carbon-rich Arctic wetlands. Serious public concerns are associated with the effects that thawing permafrost may have on the infrastructure constructed on it. Climate-induced changes of permafrost properties are potentially detrimental to almost all structures in northern lands, and may render many of them unusable. Degradation of permafrost and ground settlement due to thermokarst may lead to dramatic distortions of terrain and to changes in hydrology and vegetation, and may lead ultimately to transformation of existing landforms. Recent studies indicate that nonclimatic factors, such as changes in vegetation and hydrology, may largely govern the response of permafrost to global warming. More studies are needed to better understand and quantify the effects of multiple factors in the changing northern environment.
This article was published in Ambio
and referenced in Journal of Earth Science & Climatic Change