Join Frontier Scientists studying changes in Earth’s ground.
Underground earth material which remains frozen for two or more consecutive year is called permafrost. Much of the Arctic’s permafrost has been frozen for thousands of years. But today temperatures in the Arctic region on average are warming twice as fast as temperatures in the rest of the globe. As underground ice melts the ancient organic matter frozen in permafrost soil thaws, releasing methane and carbon dioxide; permafrost contains roughly twice as much carbon as that currently aloft in Earth’s atmosphere. What happens as ancient carbon is reintroduced into the global carbon cycle?
Permafrost scientists track how permafrost is changing, monitoring permafrost temperatures and depth. They help Alaskans build stability into structures like homes and pipelines.
As permafrost thaws the land above can fail, forming thermokarst features, sinkholes and landslides, and exposing more frozen ground to the sun. Carbon and nutrients are reintroduced into Arctic waters and local ecosystems, where sunlight and microorganisms can facilitate the creation of CO2 gas. Scientists work to measure the implications of this transformation.
Others investigate natural hazards, slow landslides in permafrost called Frozen Debris Lobes. These massive frozen debris lobes are geohazards, situated in the Dalton Highway corridor uphill from the Dalton Highway and the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System.
Volcanologists at the USGS Alaska Volcano Observatory monitor Alaska’s restless Cook Inlet Volcanoes and give warning when dangerous ash plumes threaten air travel routes.