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by Staff Writers
Zurich, Switzerland (SPX) Feb 23, 2012
Thawing permafrost will have far-reaching ramifications for populated areas, infrastructure and ecosystems. A geographer from the University of Zurich reveals where it is important to confront the issue based on new permafrost maps - the most precise global maps around. They depict the global distribution of permafrost in high-resolution images and are available on Google Earth.
Unstable cable-car and electricity pylons and rock fall - Alpine countries like Switzerland have already had first-hand experience of thawing permafrost as a result of climate change. If temperatures continue to rise, the problem will intensify in many places.
Permafrost, namely rock or soil with a negative temperature for at least two years, occurs in the subsurface and therefore cannot be mapped directly. The existing maps are thus fraught with major uncertainties that have barely been studied or formulated. Furthermore, due to the different modeling methods used the maps are difficult to compare.
The most precise global permafrost maps
Approximation of permafrost patchwork
This is where Gruber's innovative permafrost maps come in: They are based on high-resolution air temperature and elevation data. Moreover, they reveal an index that indicates the probability of permafrost.
The permafrost areas are depicted in grades - from dark blue for near-continuous permafrost to yellow for areas with little permafrost. In contrast to previous permafrost maps, which show clearly defined zones, Gruber's maps also illustrate the uncertainty of the state of research.
The scientist explains his motivation with the urgency of the matter: "As a result of climate change, areas with permafrost have great potential for unpleasant surprises.
That is why it is all the more important for politics and the public to be aware of the problem of thawing permafrost. My maps visualize the otherwise barely visible phenomenon of permafrost."
University of Zurich
Global Permafrost Zonation Index Map
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