The Dire Impermanence Of Permafrost And What Happens When It Melts Away

Melting glaciers wreak havoc worldwide.

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Melting glacier in Spitsbergen, Norway.

Vanishing glaciers give us the most striking evidence of global warming. Beyond that, their recession causes major problems for infrastructure. Ice and permafrost currently cover 10% of global landmass, and consequently many buildings rely on their presence.

Meanwhile, melting glaciers are causing sea levels to rise now at triple the rate recorded during the 20th century. This is exacerbated by the fact that seawater expands as it warms. Coastal cities everywhere are in jeopardy. Miami, especially, is known as the canary in the mine.

2016 was the hottest year ever recorded. As a result, the 100m entrance tunnel to the Global Seed Vault in Norway was flooded by snowmelt, compromising what is known as an insurance policy for the world food supply. The vault holds seeds for over 4000 species of plants.

In northwestern Greenland, a U.S. army base was built back in 1959 to experiment with ballistic missiles. They deposited their waste beneath the ice sheet, under the assumption it would be covered forever. Intensifying ice melt is raising major concerns about environmental contamination, causing a political dispute.

Certain cities built on top of permafrost are sinking. In Norilsk, Russia, the walls are of old structures are literally cracking as the foundation is weakened by the shift. City authorities suggested 60% of their buildings are now collapsing into the precipitation.

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Skaftafellsjökull glacier melting.

Besides being employed in infrastructure, glaciers provide us with fresh water, which is no longer useable when combined with seawater. Washington state is the continental U.S. state with the most glacial coverage, which provides almost 500 billion gallons of water every summer.

Another inherent problem of losing ice is that it provokes a faster rate of melting. As it recedes, it raises the sea level, causing more ice to come in contact with the water. Another problem is that permafrost soil contains large amounts of carbon. This carbon is released during melting, contributing more carbon emissions which deplete atmospheric protection from the sun.

Melting glaciers also threaten sea life. Ice melt has been found to contribute to ocean acidification, which is when the chemistry of the water is changed due to carbon dioxide absorption and other air-sea gas exchanges. Other major weather events incited by climate change are also altering the landscape and pushing debris into the ocean, resulting in acidification.

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