Because of climate change, permafrost areas of Alaska might start melting by 2070. The prediction was made by University of Alaska Professor Vladimir Romanovski.
Permafrost refers to the thick subsurface layer of soil that remains frozen throughout the year.
If the permafrost does indeed melt, it will release methane into the atmosphere, which will only cause climate change to worsen.
Romanovski made the prediction after observing temperatures in the permafrost. He says that over the past several years, the temperatures have slowly been getting warmer.
Particularly concerning is the methane that would be released in such an event. Scientists estimate that the amount of methane contained in the permafrost throughout the world to be more than double the amount of carbon that is currently in the atmosphere.
According to Romanovski, the permafrost found in the northern regions of Alaska has been warming by about one-tenth of a degree Celsius since the mid-2000s.
Romanovski said, “When we started measurements it was negative eight degrees Celsius, but now it's coming to almost negative two-point-five degrees on the Arctic coast. It is unbelievable. That's the temperature we should have here in central Alaska around Fairbanks but not there. It was assumed it would be stable for this century but it seems that's not true anymore.”
Based on current evidence, permafrost in the area could start melting by as early as the year 2070.
Romanovski has been convinced by the evidence that climate change caused by human activity is real and not just the result of natural occurrence.
Romanovski added, “Ten years ago, if you asked permafrost scientists around the globe I would say 98% would say: 'The thawing at Prudhoe Bay won't happen by the end of this century. But now I think it is very possible, and I changed my opinion right during the last four years. I was in the 98%, but now I say it's possible.”
The professor said that he changed his opinion over time after examining data more closely.
“About 10 years ago when I looked at our records, I said that they all show that permafrost temperatures should cool down a bit on multi-decadal timescales. I told myself that if it would not cool down I would 100% believe in global warming, and now I believe 100% that we have this very serious trend of warming,” he said.
Unfortunately, not much can be done about the situation if the permafrost does end up melting. Scientists are predicting that the melting of the permafrost will be gradual and that there will be no major tipping point.
Instead, the problem will just continually get worse as more methane will be released into the atmosphere. The problem could also very likely occur in all Arctic regions as well.
For now, scientists are doing everything they can to monitor the situation. They want to know if current human activity is speeding up the process of climate change and therefore increasing the temperature of the permafrost. The more that they know about the problem, the better they can be prepared for combatting the undesirable effects.