Permafrost is permanently frozen ground that acts to insulate or trap moisture, heat, and methane deep under the surface. Permafrost may be a few meters to over 1,000 meters thick and thousands of years old. Permafrost is found at high latitudes near the poles and at high altitudes. Deep permafrost covers vast areas in Alaska, northern Canada, Siberia, and the Tibetan Plateau.

The "Sleeping Giant" in Arctic Permafrost

Video Source: NASA

Permafrost stores massive amounts of carbon. As permafrost melts due to warming, organic material at Earth’s surface can be exposed to the air and decomposed or oxidized, producing carbon dioxide (CO2). Lakes and small ponds may also result from the melting permafrost. These small bodies of water are low in oxygen and perfect for bacteria that do not require oxygen, such as methanogenic bacteria. These bacteria release methane, also a greenhouse gas.

Hunting for Methane
In this Youtube video, University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Katey Walter Anthony takes us onto a frozen lake in Fairbanks, AK to demonstrate why methane gas has "exploded" onto the climate change scene. Video Source: University of Alaska Fairbanks

Melting of permafrost also causes erosion, disappearance of lakes, landslides, and ground subsidence or sinking of land.

Mysterious Siberian Holes

In July of 2014, three mysterious craters were discovered in Siberia by reindeer herders. Russian researchers think that the Siberian permafrost is melting or thawing due to warmer temperatures. As the permafrost melted, areas may have collapsed and formed these craters, which are similar to sinkholes. This collapse of land allowed methane gas to escape into the atmosphere.

Behind the Mysterious Holes in Siberia