Frozen ground under the North Slope of Alaska is warming, and much of it may thaw by the end of the century. Photo: Ned Rozell

By Ned Rozell
21 June 2018

FAIRBANKS (Daily News-Miner) – Just outside my window here at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, workers are drilling into the asphalt of a parking lot using a truck-mounted rig. They twist a hollow bit 25 feet into the ground and pull up hard, clear evidence of why the blacktop is sinking.

A few days ago, John Walsh gave a talk a few hundred steps from that parking lot. Walsh has spent 17 years in Fairbanks studying Arctic climate and learning about the latest physical changes in the far north. He is the chief scientist of the International Arctic Research Center and an expert on global warming as it applies to the Arctic and subarctic.

Back in the parking lot, an engineer guiding the work watches the drillers hit clear discs of ice, about 7 feet below car level. The ice had been solid for centuries, maybe thousands of years, but the construction of a parking lot in the late 1990s is making it shrink. What used to be spruce trees and an insulating carpet of forest floor is now a layer of warm asphalt.

Human-assisted or not, thawing permafrost is a slow-motion disaster happening now in most of northern Alaska. Unlike a hurricane or a flood, the loss of permafrost is silent, rarely dramatic, and never fatal. In the back parking lot, university secretaries and grounds crew workers will steer into different parking spaces and go on with their days.

Even though they are dramatic in scale, the northern changes John Walsh described have the same subtlety. They happen far from where most people live and have not yet resulted in an emergency for most of the world’s billions.

For example, sea ice was just not there in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean this spring.

“That was new territory for open water,” Walsh said. […]

“One of the ironies is that it takes a disaster to wake people up,” Walsh said, noting that climate researchers in Canada got a funding bump after a wildfire flashed through Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, in 2016. [more]

Warming in the North continues as predicted

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