Canada’s Thawing Permafrost Should be Raising Alarm Bells in the Battle Against Climate Change

Jun 11, 2011

Last summer, temperatures north of the Arctic Circle in Siberia approached 40 C. During the same months, wildfires of a size unprecedented in the historical record swept through Arctic and subarctic boreal forests and peat lands. And in September, the expanse of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean melted to the second-lowest area ever measured.

The Arctic is warming at more than twice the global rate. And this warming and the resulting wildfires are accelerating thaw of the North’s permafrost – the zones of perennially frozen soil, sediment and peat girdling the northern part of the globe.

This thaw matters to us because Canada is a permafrost nation. Almost half our land area lies within areas containing permafrost, and we’re second only to Russia in total amount. Permafrost thaw affects Indigenous communities, infrastructure and resource extraction across the North. By changing the landscape’s surface through the melting of ground ice, it affects ground strength, roads, pipelines, powerlines and buildings. But permafrost thaw matters, too, because of what it means for climate change.

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