New research findings confirm rapid warming and melting of Alaska’s permafrost

Alaska's permafrost is melting rapidly and causing the ground to sink noticeably across the Interior.
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 8:14 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTUU) - Permafrost — the permanently frozen layer on or under the earth’s surface made up of soil, gravel, and sand usually bound together by ice — is melting rapidly and causing the ground to sink noticeably across the Interior, according to new research findings from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Over the past four years, researcher Soumitra Sakhalkar has looked at how fast the permafrost across Interior Alaska is melting.

“If we compare the overall subsidy that we saw, over the four years that we’ve been monitoring, it’s about 20 centimeters of overall kind of suppressor trends in the four years that receive,” Sakhalkar said.

According to Sakhalkar, the change is visible to naked eye in Fairbanks.

“For Fairbanks for sure, we can definitely see that happening almost every year,” Sakhalkar said. “Seeing how much wetness it gets in the summer, it kind of just shows you. You really don’t have to read the data for it, you know.”

The change is problematic for a number of reasons. The sinking and shifting ground just beneath the surface increases the potential for sinkholes and landslides above, and melt ponds originally caused by the melting permafrost have now begun to dry out completely — affecting animal migrations.

“And these melt ponds have created a lake, which are kind of essential for animals — migrating animals like caribou, moose, and even for the birds as well, which migrate all the way to Alaska every summer. So we’ve seen quite a lot of changes in these animal, birds habitats as well.”

Finally, carbon and methane that was frozen and trapped in the ground at the beginning of the most recent ice age, is released into the atmosphere when permafrost melts, adding more carbon to the environment.

“So then it creates like a ripple effect. So the climate is warming already, and then when the permafrost melts, it releases more carbon into the atmosphere and it warms even more, and it kind of keeps on going like that,” Sakhalkar said.

The findings further exemplify the need to be more carbon neutral to limit environmental impacts.

“Try to, like, be more respectful of the like nature that we’re going to,” Sakhalkar said.