Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge - Field Update #1

Thomas Schueneman

Live from Churchill:

This is the first of an unknown number of updates from the field as I participate in a research expedition in support of Dr. Peter Kershaw's work studying the changing conditions of northern latitude peat and permafrost.

Our initial briefings of his dataset thus far in his ongoing work shows a marked warming of air temperature, an increasing "active layer" (ground that is not frozen or permafrost) a northward moving treeline, and warming permafrost.

While data for permafrost studies aren't as extensive as for other environmental and climatic phenomenon, Dr. Kershaw's work of the past thirty years, as well as all similar studies from around the world, thus far all confirm a rapidly changing environment in the north, and the rate of increase accelerating in the past decade.

One quarter of the earth's surface is permafrost. Within the permafrost and peat (undecomposed organic material) is a vast amount of methane (CH4) and carbon (CO2). As these landforms warm it allows the process of this permafrost and peat to release these gases into the atmosphere, created the positive feedback loop I've discussed before on this blog.

Other effects of a warming north are less extensive snow cover and earlier snow melt in the season. Withing the past decade snow cover would typically persist in many northern regions until mid-June until about the time of the summer solstice. Thus much of the high-incidence solar radiation would reflect back into the atmosphere. Now the snow melt is coming as much as three weeks earlier. The high sun of the summer solstice is absorbed due to the darker ground cover, retaining the heat and further warming the permafrost.

That's it for now. For the next 10 days or so we will be sampling snow pack on various sights throughout the region, from Boreal forest to tundra.


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