Australian news, and some related international items

Arctic melting permafrost a serious problem (and they want to put Small Modular Nuclear Reactors there!)

Destabilising of infrastructure in Arctic regions , as permafrost melts, is a compelling reason why it is madness to plan for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors in Northern Canada 

Whatever Happened To … The Melting Permafrost?   0893 KPCCC, Nadia Whitehead | NPR | September 6, 2020 “…………… It’s not just warmer temperatures that pose a problem for the permafrost. Scientists are now investigating whether rainfall could be causing serious issues in the Arctic’s permafrost – with repercussions for humans.

Since 2013, Fairbanks, Alaska, has had two of the wettest years in recorded history. A total ofo 14.6 inches of rain fell in the summer of 2014; it was the wettest summer yet. And that’s not a good thing for permafrost, says Thomas Douglas, a geochemist in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

Permafrost — completely frozen ground composed of materials like soil, rocks and even bones and plants — makes up a nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere. Much of it has been frozen for thousands of years.

Warming temperatures have begun to thaw permafrost, and now, increased rainfall seems to be intensifying the problem, according to Douglas’ latest study in Climate and Atmospheric Science, published in July.

“In general, across the arctic, the thought is that things are getting wetter,” Douglas says, but particularly in Fairbanks. “2014 and 2016 were the #1 and #3 summer precipitation years in what was then a 90-year record. Shattering records like this is just really unique.”……….

The thaw was worse in some locations more than others, depending on the terrain where measurements were taken. Forests and mossy landscapes seemed to protect the permafrost. There, for every additional inch of rain, the permafrost thawed by an additional quarter of an inch.

But in locations where human activity – such as trails and clearings — had altered the land, the thaw was worse. For every additional inch of rain, the researchers saw an additional inch of thaw. At one particular site, permafrost thaw depth grew from 47 inches in 2013 to nearly 75 inches in 2017.

Douglas explains, “When you remove vegetation, that’s like leaving the lid open on your cooler on a summer day. It allows heat and water to get down in the permafrost pretty rapidly.”

Out of all the team’s research, Douglas says their most important finding was that thinner layers of thawed permafrost seem to be vanishing — literally thawing away……….

Dmitry Streletskiy, a professor at George Washington University who specializes in permafrost, says that Douglas’s study is a great contribution to permafrost research. However, he emphasizes that the study was conducted in a boreal ecosystem, a sub-arctic region with warmer temperatures and relatively warm permafrost. ……..

Streletskiy agrees that permafrost is degrading on a global scale due to climate change. Its impacts are starting to show — and zombie pathogens shouldn’t be our only concern.

He and Douglas both point to the Norilsk oil spill in Russia, where an oil tank spewed more than 150,000 barrels of diesel into the arctic, and officials have been racing to clean it up. Many experts believe thawing permafrost is to blame; the oil tank, which sat on permafrost, collapsed in May.

What’s more, permafrost thaw can lead to deterioration in infrastructure, such as pipelines, railroads and homes, Streletskiy explains. “Small changes in temperature can affect how much weight a foundation built on permafrost can support. Say for example at -10 degrees, the foundation can support 100 tons, but at -8 degrees, it can only support 50 tons.”

For people who don’t live near the oil spill or in arctic regions, it’s easy to forget about permafrost. “Out of sight, out of mind,” Douglas says. But the thaw could one day affect everyone.

An estimated 1,400 to 1,600 billion metric tons of carbon are currently frozen in the permafrost. “There are a lot of questions about what’s going to happen when that [carbon]starts to thaw,” Douglas says………..

September 7, 2020 - Posted by | General News

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