9 timely readings on the status of permafrost

The frozen soils of the northern hemisphere are warming, with huge implications for the whole planet.

Every December, NOAA releases its annual Arctic Report Card. Because that release coincides with and is one topic at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, its consistently “bad news” is followed by equally reliable good press coverage, even though the data does not always vary much year-to-year.

One element of the 2019 Arctic story involves the warming of the permafrost, the frozen soils that cover nearly a quarter of the northern hemisphere’s land.

The short permafrost section of this scientific report offers good insights. For a fuller view of the basic situation, see Bob Berwyn’s pieces in Inside Climate News here and here.

You might also want to flesh out the bones with the kinds of stories that make the distant seem near and the abstract feel concrete.

If you read Elizabeth Kolbert’s valuable 2005 New Yorker articles or 2006 book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, you may remember her description of accompanying permafrost expert Vladimir Romanovsky around Alaska. That description is worth re-reading as a kind of early warning.

Herschel Island permafrost

 Thawing permafrost in Herschel Island, Canada, 2013. (Photo credit: Boris Radosavljevic / Flickr)

High Country News has a very interesting and informative story about the carbon in permafrost (and the scientists studying it) by veteran science writer J. Madeleine Nash, “A Look into a Climate-Altered Alaska.” And the New York Times has published these two memorable stories about what melting permafrost actually means to plants, animals, and people: Henry Fountain’s “Alaska’s Permafrost is Thawing” (August 2017) and Neil MacFarquhar’s “Russian Land of Permafrost and Mammoths Is Thawing” (August 2019).

Finally, for a perhaps unexpected cultural angle, take a look at Sabrina Shankman’s quite interesting piece from November 2017 in Inside Climate News, “In Alaska’s Thawing Permafrost, Humanity’s ‘Library Is on Fire.'”

SueEllen Campbell, 23 December 2019 on YaleClimateConnections