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Permafrost: The dangers of what lies beneath

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

By Kat McGregor

Beneath layers of thick ice there is a potential climate change disaster waiting to happen. There are vast deposits of plant and animal remains beneath great lakes, matter that froze before decomposing; these are huge pools of organic carbon not yet released into the atmosphere. Scientists have estimated there may be up to 1500 billion tonnes of carbon beneath the permafrost; more than double that in the atmosphere today.

Permafrost is the natural phenomena of ground remaining frozen for many years; areas of the Arctic, Scandinavia and North America have remained frozen for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. Due to global warming, as this ice begins to melt away, organisms can digest organic matter at the bottom of lakes, releasing methane and carbon dioxide as a by-product. This stunning shot of methane bubbles in Alberta, Canada, show the sheer number of methane bubbles frozen in the ice.


When Spring and Summer come around, the surface ice melts and this releases the methane into the atmosphere. When the bubbles rupture, the effects of the highly flammable gas can be environmentally devastating. Ecologists have taken to intentionally hacking at the ice and igniting the flame, turning it into the far less damaging CO2, to help fight against it’s potentially catastrophic impact.

Unless we can find a solution, unexploded methane released from the lakes into the atmosphere will continue to heat the Earth, which in turn melts permafrost further. It’s a cycle, an extremely beautiful, but very vicious cycle.

Credit: Emmanuel Coupe Kalomiris

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