Scientists sound the alarm bell on permafrost

A decrease in permafrost (cryotic soil) will follow climate change and a rise in temperature. This could have serious consequences. We might see an increase in greenhouse gasses, a greater possibility of landslides and live under the threat of monster waves.

If the permafrost inside Nordnes, a mountain located in Lyngen, melts, it can cause a tsunami that destroys infrastructure and populated areas. Photo: Ørjan Bertelsen

If the permafrost inside Nordnes, a mountain located in Lyngen, Norway, melts, it can cause a tsunami that destroys infrastructure and populated areas. Photo: Ørjan Bertelsen

When the ground remains frozen a whole calendar year we call it permafrost. In Norway, permafrost is most common in mountain terrain and areas upland, and just a small change in permafrost can have serious consequences for the mountain landscape and neighboring areas.

The Department of Geosciences at the University of Oslo has developed a strong expertise when it comes to permafrost and Professor Bernd Etzelmuller explains why the decrease in permafrost is worrying.

Permafrost glues the landscape together

UiO scientists at work placing temperature loggers inside the mountainside containing permafrost. The picture portrays “Mannen”, one mountain that is at risk of collapsing. Photo: Department of Geosciences/UiO.

If you get high enough in the Norwegian mountain terrain the ground will stay frozen the year through.

Norway is a country full of mountains. However, the presence of permafrost is decided by the local climate.

In southern Norway the permafrost boundary varies from 1 600 meters above sea level in the west to 1 300 meters in the east. In Northern Norway we see a lower boundary with approximately 900 meters above sea level in the west and 400 meters in eastern parts of Finnmark.

Sporadically, in some part of Finnmark you might find permafrost at sea level where permafrost is bound to marshlands, so called palses.

Where we find permafrost the ice will sculpture and shape the surrounding landscape and in the mountains it will act as glue: It keeps the ground stable and the terrain together.

– When water transforms into ice it swells and the other way around. Consequently, in areas where freezing and melting occurs regularly, cracks will develop and expand, says Etzelmuller.

These cracks can make the mountainside unstable.

 

Read the whole article on Titan.uio.no

Published Jan. 21, 2016 7:32 PM - Last modified Jan. 21, 2016 8:36 PM