Study finds permafrost warming, monitoring improving

Aug 03, 2010
University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Vladimir Romanovsky measures permafrost temperature at a borehole in interior Alaska. Credit: Photo by A. Kholodov.

Permafrost warming continues throughout a wide swath of the Northern Hemisphere, according to a team of scientists assembled during the recent International Polar Year.

Their extensive findings, published in the April-June 2010 edition of and Periglacial Processes, describe the thermal state of high-latitude permafrost during the International Polar Year, 2007-2009. Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor with the snow, ice and permafrost group at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, is the lead author of the paper, which also details the significant expansion of Northern Hemisphere permafrost monitoring.

"This paper is actually pretty unique," Romanovsky said, "because it's the first time such a large geographical area has been involved in one paper."

During the International Polar Year, Romanovsky and his colleagues launched a field campaign to improve the existing permafrost-monitoring network. The permafrost thermal state is monitored with borehole sensors, which gather data from holes drilled deep into the permafrost. The researchers established nearly 300 borehole sites that serve as permafrost observatories across the polar and sub-polar regions in the . Their work more than doubled the size of the previously existing network

"The heart of monitoring is the measuring of temperatures in boreholes," Romanovsky said. "For permafrost temperatures, you have to be there. You have to establish boreholes."

Having data from across the circumpolar North allows scientists to analyze trends affecting permafrost. The article notes that permafrost temperatures have warmed as much as two degrees Celsius from 20 to 30 years ago. They also found that permafrost near zero degrees Celsius warmed more slowly than colder permafrost. According to Romanovsky, this trend is an example of the large-scale analysis possible using data from the expanded network.

The enlarged and revamped observatory network is meant to be a building block for further research. It also has the potential to foster better modeling of future conditions and act as an early warning system of the negative consequences of climate change in permafrost regions. That could, in turn, help policymakers and the public plan for a future with warmer permafrost.

Romanovsky, whose specialty is Russian and North American permafrost conditions, plans to keep building on the legacy of the International Polar Year. With help from a five-year National Science Foundation grant, he continues his collaboration with American and international colleagues, establishing new borehole sites in undersampled areas and analyzing trends evidenced by the newly available data.

The Fourth International Polar Year was a two-year event that began in March of 2007 and focused the attention of the international research community on the Earth's polar regions. UAF researchers were heavily involved in IPY projects and are still analyzing data from those projects.

Explore further: NASA balloons begin flying in Antarctica for 2014 campaign

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Thawing permafrost likely to boost global warming

Sep 01, 2008

The thawing of permafrost in northern latitudes, which greatly increases microbial decomposition of carbon compounds in soil, will dominate other effects of warming in the region and could become a major force promoting the ...

Permafrost may nearly disappear by 2100

Dec 20, 2005

The National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., says global warming may destroy most permafrost across the Northern Hemisphere.

Peat and forests save permafrost from melting

Sep 13, 2007

Permafrost may be buffered against the impacts of climate change by peat and vegetation present in the northern regions, according to a study by McMaster researchers.

Permafrost line recedes 130 km in 50 years

Feb 17, 2010

The southern limit of permanently frozen ground, or permafrost, is now 130 kilometers further north than it was 50 years ago in the James Bay region, according to two researchers from the Department of Biology ...

Permafrost carbon content double the old estimates

Sep 12, 2008

New research indicates that the amount of frozen organic carbon locked away in the world’s permafrost regions – a major potential source of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) – is double ...

Recommended for you

Scientists make strides in tsunami warning since 2004

15 hours ago

The 2004 tsunami led to greater global cooperation and improved techniques for detecting waves that could reach faraway shores, even though scientists still cannot predict when an earthquake will strike.

Trade winds ventilate the tropical oceans

16 hours ago

Long-term observations indicate that the oxygen minimum zones in the tropical oceans have expanded in recent decades. The reason is still unknown. Now scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.