Near-surface permafrost to nearly disappear in 77 years

Data shows warming of Earth is on pace with extreme climate scenarios
Published: Oct. 16, 2023 at 1:43 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A team of international scientists has compared climate data with a decade old projection and the results show a large loss of near-surface permafrost by 2100.

Love it or hate it, we are surrounded by permafrost, at least for now.

Some new research from international collaborators, including UAF scientists, suggests that 93 percent near-surface permafrost could be gone in less than 80 years. That’s an estimate for global permafrost loss, not just Alaska. This would leave near-surface permafrost in high arctic latitudes only.

These projections of the future came from the RCP 8.5 model. This model suggests that continued emission levels will place the planet in an extreme scenario with a drastic rise in air temperature. “Air temperature in Alaska will be about seven or eight degrees warmer than it is,” said Dr. Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor and researcher at UAF’s Geophysical Institute. The RCP 8.5 model was developed around 2010 providing the international team with more than a decade worth of data to compare to ”and this comparison shows that we are at the highest rate of warming scenarios so far,” Romanovsky said.

Not only does current data show that we are currently in the most extreme scenario, there have been years where air temperatures exceeded that scenario. The continued increase of surface air temperature is a concern, as even moderate increases could brings a large loss of near-surface permafrost.

This layer of permafrost is located between ten and twenty feet under the surface, but as you move further north, it is more susceptible to change. That’s due to the amount of ice in permafrost having a positive correlation with higher latitudes. In other words, there’s more ice in the permafrost further north.

As the arctic is already facing issues with melting permafrost, including severe damage to military installations, the researchers say further loss will have substantial impacts to infrastructure in general, among other effects.

“Permafrost change will probably be the most devastating for infrastructure in Alaska and also for other ecosystems,” said Romanovsky. Animals, plants and much more are likely to be impacted by the decrease of permafrost.