The team watched in amazement as water from melting permafrost a meter below ground lubricated the topsoil, causing it to slide down slopes, clearing everything in its path and thrusting up ridges at the valley bottom “that piled up like a rug. … A major river was dammed by a slide along a 200-metre length of the channel. River flow will be changed for years, if not decades to come.”

Dr. Scott Lamoureux of Queen’s University describes an extraordinary thaw on Melville Island, north of the arctic circle. (The permafrost usually thaws to about 50 cms; this summer’s thaw penetrated twice as deep.)

Hat tip, Andrew Sullivan. The Globe and Mail comments:

Changes to the environment and climate are usually imperceptible and are visible only when the increments build up over time and result in a trend. But in the summer of 2007, both anecdotal and quantifiable evidence emerged that showed dramatic changes are taking place in the Far North at a faster pace than anyone imagined.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Snaars
    Oct 06, 2007 @ 13:31:26

    In addition to the problems mentioned in the articles you linked to, I’ve read that the melting permafrost may well cause what climatologists refer to as a tipping point – a threshhold “where a slight rise in the Earth’s temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures.”

    This is because the melting permafrost releases methane trapped in the frozen soil. Methane is itself a greenhouse gas, so the thought is that it’s release accelerates global warming in a vicious feedback loop.


  2. Stephen
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 07:19:15

    Thanks for that, Snaars. That sort of feedback loop is a very alarming prospect.

    Climate change really worries me. People seem to blithely assume that if the climate starts to get too ugly, we can correct our course then.

    But by then we may have passed the tipping point and be into those feedback loops (the one you mention and various others like it). And at that point, all our awesome technology may be unable to save the planet — the planet on which our lives, and certainly our affluent way of life, depends.


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