What is permafrost? What is that new threat?

Permafrost: a new threat over the planet.

We talk a lot about Permafrost recently. It is melting, a phenomenon that is associated with climate change, global warming, the end of humanity.

What is permafrost? In what state is it?

The soil of the Earth, in very cold or periglacial regions, has a upper layer (of a few centimeters to 4 meters thick), which thaws and freezes according to seasons. Under this “active layer” is permafrost. This permanently frozen subsoil has a thickness of 5cm up to 1.5km, and it is not ice, it is frozen ground. Permafrost occupies 25% of the Earth’s surface: Alaska, Canada and Russia, Tibet, Norway, …

Now Permafrost is defrosting, and the consequences are diverse:

When the ground becomes soft, the constructions that have been built on it, collapse. Not only houses, but also forests. Sometimes there are whole sections of mountain falling down in valleys. Permafrost acts as a huge prehistoric freezer that sequesters dead plants and animals, organic matter, which, once thawed, decomposes and releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (main greenhouse gases), and heavy metals such as mercury, and also ancient viruses…

-The methane gaz, (origin of methane-genesis in the decomposition of biomass) rises from the subsoil into the atmosphere and accelerates global warming 25 times more than CO2: then permafrost melts even more at high speed. It is a loop effect.

– The increase in temperatures causes uncontrolled mega-fires (Russia 2019) that in addition to burning fauna and flora, burn methane, thus emitting more carbon that ends up in the atmosphere and contributes in turn to global warming, which defrosts more soil, and again and again… Another loop effect.

– Mercury (highly dangerous in its organic form of Methyl Mercury), is quantified at 1.7 million tons within the permafrost. When the subsoil is defrosted, mercury contaminates groundwater and ends up in the sea. Fishes like tuna, bass, perch, marlin, sardine, anchovy,… no fish is protected from this contamination…

– Viruses kept in permafrost are recovering activity with the thaw. Giant viruses (0.2 µm size) 30000 years old were detected in 2010 in Siberian permafrost. The mining activities that remove the subsoil participate in the awakening of these viruses. Last year there was an outbreak of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) in the Yamal Peninsula, north of Siberia, which caused the death of a child, more than 100 hospitalized, and the death of 2000 reindeer.

The thawing of permafrost puts humanity in serious danger. It acts like a Pandora’s box, which when opened releases much uncertainty. Unfortunately, it is only one of the dangerous phenomena caused by global warming.

Only if governments quickly bring out new mesures to reduce massively the greenhouse gas emissions and apply a huge shift in the economic system then we will have a chance to mitigate the global warming and the end of our civilisation.