Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

Subscribe free to our newsletters via your

Nature study reveals rapid ice-wedge loss across Arctic
by Staff Writers
Los Alamos NM (SPX) Mar 18, 2016

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Cathy Wilson measuring how soil properties change with depth at the DOE Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment, NGEE-Arctic, field site near Barrow, Alaska. Image courtesy Los Alamos National Laboratory. For a larger version of this image please go here.

Permafrost covers a considerable part of the Arctic. Hundreds of meters deep in many places and frozen for millennia, it's been thawing in recent decades, releasing greenhouse gases. New research reveals that similarly ancient ice wedges that form the prevalent honeycomb pattern across the tundra appear to be melting rapidly across the Arctic.

The ice wedges are quickly degrading, affecting runoff and amplifying the loss of permafrost. This melting ground ice greatly affects the storage and movement of water, either creating small ponds that absorb heat and increase thawing of soil across the tundra, or causing new connections between polygon troughs that can drain the landscape, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Ice wedge degradation has been observed before, but this is the first study to determine that rapid melting of ground ice has become widespread throughout the Arctic. The research team predicts that the melting - already occurring at sub-decadal timescales - will expand and intensify across the region, and this could escalate global warming and create more feedbacks.

"The unique structure of ice wedge polygon landscapes promotes ponding of water and the accumulation of vast stores of soil carbon as wetland vegetation dies-off seasonally and is buried and frozen over thousands of years. When ice wedges melt the land surface collapses.

These "thermokarsts" dramatically change hydrology by either creating a lot of new ponds, or by draining and drying polygon-shaped ponds by connecting them into a continuous drainage network." said Cathy Wilson, the Los Alamos National Laboratory geomorphologist who coauthored the paper. Wilson heads the Atmosphere, Climate and Ecosystem Science team in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Division.

Nearly 24 percent of the Northern continental landmass is covered by permafrost, defined as continuously frozen ground for two-plus years, with most of it frozen for tens to hundreds of thousands of years.

Permafrost stores nearly 1700 gigatons of organic carbon. This frozen carbon is far greater than the amount of carbon that is already in the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases: methane and carbon dioxide. Wilson and other Los Alamos scientists have been working to understand how changes in permafrost hydrology might severely alter the Arctic carbon cycle, including the possibility of a large-scale greenhouse gas release from thawing permafrost.

Wilson explained "When permafrost thaws, microbes get active and start decomposing the carbon in the soil. This generates greenhouse gases. We want to know how much gas will be produced, how fast it will be released from the soil, and if it will be methane or carbon dioxide. Hydrology is critical, because more thermokarst ponds results in more methane, but more drained land results in more carbon dioxide."

The international team combined observations about the types of ice wedge polygons and how they changed over time across the Arctic, where they were already performing various permafrost studies.

According to the paper, although these regions contain "cold permafrost," with an overall average temperature of about minus-14 degrees Celsius, surface thawing still occurred at all of the 10 study sites across Alaska, Canada and Russia.

"It's really the tipping point for the hydrology," said Anna Liljedahl, a researcher from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the paper's lead author.

"Suddenly you're draining the landscape and creating more runoff even if the amount of precipitation remains the same. Instead of being absorbed by the tundra, the snowmelt water will run off into lakes and larger rivers. It really is a dramatic hydrologic change across the tundra landscape."

Gradual warming of permafrost has been well-documented in the Arctic, but the polygon study indicates that a brief period of unusual warmth can cause a rapid shift in a short time period.

At the studied sites, ice wedge degradation occurred in less than a decade. In some cases, a single unusually warm summer was enough to cause over 10 centimeters of surface subsidence.

The team's synthesis of field observations, remote sensing and hydrologic modeling documents trough formation (from melt and subsequent water movement) across the Arctic continuous permafrost domain. The ice-wedge degradation is a recent widespread phenomenon with major hydrological implications, according to the authors.

"Change is happening so fast. I never thought I'd see thermokarst occur over the course of a few years at our field site. It's pretty exciting, but scary too." Wilson said.

"Even though the goal of the Los Alamos research is to improve the representation of permafrost hydrology in coupled climate models, I hope these findings will immediately help the general public and policy makers understand just how vulnerable the Arctic is to climate change."

Research paper: Pan-Arctic ice-wedge degradation in warming permafrost and its influence on tundra hydrology

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only


Related Links
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Beyond the Ice Age

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
Degrading underground ice could reshape Arctic landscape
San Antonio TX (SPX) Mar 16, 2016
Rapid melting of ice and Arctic permafrost is altering tundra regions in Alaska, Canada and Russia, according to a new study released in the journal Nature Geoscience. Ice-wedge degradation has been observed before in individual locations, but this is the first study to determine that rapid melting has become widespread throughout the Arctic. Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) provided ti ... read more

Permanent Lunar Colony Possible in 10 Years

China to use data relay satellite to explore dark side of moon

NASA May Return to Moon, But Only After Cutting Off ISS

Lunar love: When science meets artistry

Europe's New Mars Mission Bringing NASA Radios Along

Close comet flyby threw Mars' magnetic field into chaos

ExoMars 2016 - The heat is on

Rocket blasts off on Russia-Europe mission seeking life on Mars

Accelerating discovery with new tools for next generation social science

Belgium Plans to Create Own National Space Agency

Anbang: from obscure Chinese insurer to global innkeeper

Astronaut Scott Kelly to retire in April

China's ambition after space station

Sky is the limit for China's national strategy

Aim Higher: China Plans to Send Rover to Mars in 2020

China's lunar probe sets record for longest stay

Space station astronauts ham it up to inspire student scientists

Roscosmos-NASA Contract on US Astronauts Delivery to ISS on Restructuring

NASA station leads way for improved measurements of Earth orientation, shape

Marshall supports 15 years of ISS science discoveries

ISRO launches PSLV C32, India's sixth navigation satellite

Assembly of Russia's Soyuz Rocket With Earth-Sensing Satellite Completed

Ariane 5 launch contributes to Ariane 6 development

SpaceX launches SES-9 satellite to GEO; but booster landing fails

NASA's K2 mission: Kepler second chance to shine

Star eruptions create and scatter elements with Earth-like composition

Astronomers discover two new 'hot Jupiter' exoplanets

Sharpest view ever of dusty disc around aging star

3D printer could soon make cartilage for knees, noses, ears

Research team documents design of wood-based polymers

Disney research takes depth cameras into high-accuracy 3-D capture

A foldable material that can change size, volume and shape

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement