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Abrupt permafrost thaw will cause Arctic wildfire severity to double from one year to the next.

5 min read
forêt à perte de vue... far as the eyes can see

The high Arctic is in serious trouble from the fossil fuel and extraction industries to the degradation of the region’s biomes from climate change.

Despite the best efforts of the Trump regime to silence climate scientists, while sabotaging and burying their work, more and more studies are sounding the alarm that we are now floating aimlessly in uncharted waters.

A new study by researchers at McGill University and, published in the journal Nature (behind a paywall), found that the thawing permafrost surface layer will be abrupt and have a devastating effect on humans, ecosystems and, engineering processes. Many thought that these changes would happen gradually. 

Loss of sea ice is warming the permafrost that will create a climate crisis that we do not ever want to face. 

From the abstract:

Here we project that soil moisture will decrease abruptly (within a few months) in response to permafrost degradation over large areas of the present-day permafrost region, based on analysis of transient climate change simulations performed using a state-of-the-art regional climate model. This regime shift is reflected in abrupt increases in summer near-surface temperature and convective precipitation, and decreases in relative humidity and surface runoff. Of particular relevance to northern systems are changes to the bearing capacity of the soil due to increased drainage, increases in the potential for intense rainfall events and increases in lightning frequency. Combined with increases in forest fuel combustibility, these are projected to abruptly and substantially increase the severity of wildfires, which constitute one of the greatest risks to northern ecosystems, communities and infrastructures.

Taiga forests, also known as Boreal forests, is the most expansive land biome on earth.

The Arctic has the most expansive forest on Earth. It is known as Taiga or Boreal forest, and it has begun to burn with unprecedented wildfires (tundra is sharing the same fate). Daily Kos blogger Mark Sumner wrote a diary on the Boreal fires here.

Emily Blake of CBC news writes on the study findings in the Yukon and NW Territories:

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, says permafrost thaw in the region will likely drive “abrupt” climate change that will happen with “little or no warning.” Most alarming, the authors found the severity of wildfires in the Northwest Territories and Yukon could double from one year to the next and stay at that higher rate.

“Suddenly we start getting fires that are twice as intense as before, so it’s easy to see how that affects the ecosystems,” said Bernardo Teufel, one of the study’s authors and a PhD student at McGill University.

Teufel explained that permafrost acts as a barrier to water movement so as it thaws, water can move deeper into the soil leaving the surface dry. This means more combustible material is available, a key ingredient in wildfires, as well as greater flooding risks during snow melt.

The study also found the North will likely experience abrupt increases in heavy rainfall, more lightning, and less humid summers. It says these rapid changes could lead to “catastrophic situations” for roads, buildings, pipelines and mining infrastructure that were designed for current climate conditions.

A second study,  published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters has found that eroding Arctic coastlines are contributing to climate change.

From the study’s authors at the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers:

Permafrost coasts make up about one third of the Earth’s total coastline. As a result of accelerated climate change, whole sections of coastline rapidly thaw, and erode into the Arctic Ocean. A new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters now shows that large amounts of carbon dioxide are potentially being produced along these eroding permafrost coastlines in the Arctic.

“Carbon budgets and climate simulations have so far missed coastal erosion in their equations even though it might be a substantial source of carbon dioxide,” says George Tanski of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, lead author of the study. “Our research found that the erosion of permafrost coastlines can lead to the rapid release of significant quantities of CO2, which can be expected to increase as coastal erosion accelerates, temperatures increase, sea ice diminishes, and stronger storms batter Arctic coasts.”

The researchers found that CO2 was released as rapidly from thawing permafrost in seawater as it is from thawing permafrost on land. Previous research had documented that thawing permafrost on land causes significant releases of greenhouse gases. This new research indicates that eroding permafrost coasts and nearshore waters are also a potentially notable source of CO2 emissions. It draws into question carbon budgets that have identified the coastal zone mainly as a point of passage for carbon from land to sea, neglecting possible carbon transport into the atmosphere.

Regional authorities in the Yamal Nenets region are aware of the potential devastating consequences of climate change, but say necessary measures are taken.

Meanwhile, in Putin’s Russia, the development of the remote Yamal peninsula for energy exploration and development is going full steam ahead. The Russia Federation has banned indigenous rights groups from resisting the destruction of their permafrost homeland in Siberia.

The Barents Observer writes: Under the surface of Russia’s Arctic super-region is a looming disaster

Big developments are in the making on the vast tundra of Yamal. Only few decades ago, these wide and open stretches of Arctic lands were the uncontested domain of Nenets reindeer herders who moved with their great flocks across the peninsula, from the harsh coasts of the Kara Sea, along the shores of the Ob Gulf and the Baydarata Bay and south towards the towns of Labytnangi and Salekhard.

Around are flat lands as long as the eye can see, big wetlands and thousands of lakes. And underneath the ground is a thick layer of permafrost and trillions of cubic meters of natural gas.

In only few years, this has become Russia’s petroleum region No 1. The country’s leading oil and gas companies are today eagerly engaged in a major buildup of new fields, plants, infrastructure and communter settlements across the peninsula.

The development is a main source of concern for the reindeer herders who increasingly are hindered by new pipelines, roads and railway lines. But for regional authorities, the huge and rapid development of the oil and gas industry comes with great pride.

In an address, Kalinin said that his region has the most pessimistic outlooks as outlined by the climatologists, and made clear that consequences would be horrendous if the ground loses the ability to carry infrastructure and industrial plants.

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