Thawing permafrost is set to radically alter the landscape of northern parts of the United States. Roads, homes, and infrastructure built atop permafrost can crack or collapse as it melts. And whole villages may have to relocate. Vladimir Romanovsky, University of Alaska in Fairbanks geophysics professor, told the BBC “by now there are 70 villages who really have to move because of thawing permafrost.”


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Permafrost covers almost 90 percent of Alaska – so if the thawing keeps up, people will have to leave their homes as building foundations and infrastructure collapse. Sewer and water lines buried in permafrost can also break as the frozen soil melts. Villages that depend on lakes for water can be hit as nearby permafrost thaws and a lateral drain happens.

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Some people are already seeing impacts. Materials engineer for Northern Region of the Alaska Department of Transportation Public Facilities Jeff Currey told the BBC, “We are seeing some increased maintenance on existing roads over permafrost. One of our maintenance superintendents recently told me his folks are having to patch settling areas on the highways he’s responsible for more frequently than they were 10 or 20 years ago.”

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United States Geological Survey research indicates that villages, such as Kivalina in the southwest part of the state, will have to move away within the coming decade. Romanovsky said it could cost around $200 million to move a 300-person village.

And permafrost holds a large amount of carbon, which stands to be released into the air. Romanovsky said, “Theoretically if this carbon is released to the atmosphere, the amount of CO2 will be three times more than what is in there [in the atmosphere] now.” And it would be difficult to refreeze permafrost in our lifetime.

Via the BBC

Images via Andrea Pokrzywinski on Flickr (1,2)