As global temperatures steadily climb, the Earth is fast becoming a sinking planet. In the Arctic, rising temperatures are causing ancient glaciers to shrink, sea ice to shrink, and the planet’s permafrost to thaw. Permafrost covers a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, including Alaska, Canada, and Siberia, as well as many regions not covered by snow.
The lasting impacts of permafrost thaw
The steady thawing of decades-old permafrost is not only changing Arctic landscapes, but also disrupting fragile ecosystems, and displacing entire villages. Roads, homes, pipelines, even military facilities, and other infrastructure are collapsing or beginning to become unstable. This leaves many communities built on permafrost – like Tuktoyaktuk – vulnerable to landslides and storm surges.
In addition to that, communities that rely on winter transportation across frozen rivers and lakes are finding that these important routes are not “freezing” enough anymore. Especially as the melting ice disrupts access to food supply and essential services such as healthcare.
More alarmingly, the permafrost thaw is threatening to release dangerous microorganisms and potential carbon emissions that have been trapped in the ice for thousands of years.
Recently, permafrost covering nearly one million square kilometers in western Siberia began to melt, forming a muddy, shallow lake with fractured landscape. Since the end of the Ice Age eleven thousand years ago, methane has been accumulating in the permafrost region, which is the world’s largest mud coal field.
Methane is a major contributor to global warming, with a greenhouse effect 25 times that of carbon dioxide. The amount of methane trapped in the permafrost is believed to be up to 70 billion tons, accounting for over a quarter of the world’s soil methane supply.
Slowing permafrost thaw
Several programs and methods are now being developed to reverse or slow permafrost thawing. One initiative proposes to reduce methane leakage from permafrost melt by collecting frozen soil spilt by methane and liquefying it for storage. Aside from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this proposal also opens new avenues for energy extraction and surface natural gas mining technologies.
Other solutions aim to combat Siberian permafrost thaw by restoring the Ice Age ecosystem. Scientists have started the rehabilitation process by introducing climate-adapted species such as stocky Yakutian horses, musk ox, wisent, and European bison to snowy terrains like Pleistocene Park. The idea is to lower permafrost temperatures, with the hope that the conditions in Pleistocene Park will spread over Arctic Siberia and into North America over time.
The way forward
Climate change is one of the most complex global issues we face today. It encompasses many aspects of society – science, economics, society, politics, and moral and ethical issues. It is also a global problem that is felt intensely at the local level.
Addressing this threat requires a multi-pronged approach that includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions, mitigating the impact of climate change, adapting to living in a changing climate, increasing energy efficiency, and using renewable energy. Since the damage is happening rapidly, we must start working hard on solutions that allow humans to adapt to the problems quickly.
Lifeboat Ventures is on the track to furthering this goal by helping disaster mitigation startups get off the ground. We work with entrepreneurs on developing startups that reduce the impact of constant disasters such as storms, floods, wildfires, and pandemics.
Can your solutions help create a better future? We can help you take off. Contact us to learn more.
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