Permafrost Definition

by Laurent Cousineau
(Montreal)

Permafrost refers to ground that stays perennially frozen. In other words, it is ground that will remain frozen throughout the year.

Typically, there is permafrost where the temperature remains below 0°C for several years.

Most of the world's permafrost resides in Northern Canada and Northern Russia.

Permafrost takes up quite a large surface area. In fact, as much as 24% of exposed land in the Northern Hemisphere is permafrost.

Permafrost and Climate Change

When discussing climate change, permafrost is an important topic because the melting of permafrost will lead to the release of huge amounts of methane (CH4), a powerful greenhouse gas.

Moreover, permafrost stores carbon not only in the form of methane but also as peat, decomposed vegetable matter.

Carbon from peat will also be released when permafrost melts and will bind with oxygen (O2) in the atmosphere to make carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant greenhouse gas.

Permafrost Melting Feedback Loop

Essentially, the more permafrost melts, the more methane is released, and hence the more greenhouse gases there will be in the atmosphere.

In turn, this will increase temperatures further due to the greenhouse effect, and will thus cause more permafrost to melt.

Feedback loops such as this one are the reason why climate change is so serious. Essentially, the effects of climate change will accelerate and we may one day reach a point of no return.

Therefore, it is important for all of us to do our part to help stop climate change and build a more sustainable future for generations to come.

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