Understanding the threat of Arctic permafrost thaw
Thawing Arctic coastlines due to climate change will not only affect the people living there, it will also have global ramifications. The EU-funded NUNATARYUK project is analysing the consequences of Arctic permafrost warming to help policymakers and local communities develop adaptation and mitigation strategies.
© Mats #131477818, source: stock.adobe.com 2019
The subsurface layer of soil found in Arctic regions, known as permafrost, makes up a quarter of the landmass in the Northern Hemisphere and is vital for the healthy ecosystem of this sensitive coastal landscape.
But as global warming thaws and erodes these Arctic coastlines, bacteria breaks down organic matter in the soil releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. The release of these greenhouse gasses leads to greater warming of the Earth.
But what the exact consequences this will have on the planet and the people living there is still unclear. In response NUNATARYUK is investigating the consequences of a thawing permafrost.
Specifically the project team is focusing on three main areas: the organic matter released from thawing permafrost; the risks of this thawing to infrastructure, to indigenous and local communities, and to their health; and the long-term impacts on the global climate and economy.
For example, most human activity in the Arctic takes place along permafrost coasts. Climate change puts pressure on the infrastructure, environment and economy of the people living there. If the ground becomes too soft they lose their homes, oil and gas lines have already started to leak and the marine habitat is changing. Contaminants and pathogens could find their way into coastal waters.
Currently, one of the projects teams is conducting high resolution mapping to provide a snapshot of the present state of the Arctic coast to assess on the rates of coastal change, especially after 2015. Another is taking detailed GPS measurements and drone imagery to track coastal erosion.
The project´s researchers are also consulting with local communities to determine their priorities in relation to the issues being addressed by the project. This and other consultations will feed into recommendations on ow best to adapt to these changes.
Together, they will merge up-to-date findings on Arctic change and its global implications. The research and recommendations will be provided will support advancing international cooperation as well as developing strategies to enable the sustainable development of the Arctic.
Nunataryuk, together with seven other H2020 projects, is part of the EU Arctic Research Cluster coordinated by EU PolarNet. The objective is to create synergies among projects and to increase their impacts.