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Will Melting Landscapes Stabilize?

Sunken roads, broken and shifted building foundations, huge potholes in parking lots, buckled grounds and slopes, leaning trees ("drunken forests" of Denali National Park) and coastal erosion are all clear evidence of the ravages of the thawing permafrost in Alaska and other northern regions.

Permafrost in the northern climes has been melting since the last Ice Age, but no one denies the challenges of dealing with the effects of thawing permafrost in Alaskan and other northern regions. Some roads in the Fairbanks area have asphalt 10-ft. thick, the outcome of periodically pouring more bitumen to the road surface to keep it level. One mitigating measure used on some roads is to install mechanical air drains to keep heat transfer from the road surface to the underlying permafrost. Some Alaskan residents are forced to rebuild or abandon their homes, as structures sink in the ground to the extent doors can't open, or the ground buckles and cracks foundations. As the permafrost thaws, stored carbon dioxide and methane in the frozen ground is released. Scientists are trying to determine how much carbon dioxide and methane carbon is stored in the permafrost, and how much is being released. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the climate in the northern hemisphere from 1983 to 2012 "was likely the warmest 30-year period of the past 1,400 years," and that "greenhouse gases--carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide--have jumped to levels unprecedented in at least the past 800,000 years."

The IPCC report also says: "However, the rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998-2012; 0.05 [-0.05 to +0.15] ?C per decade) ... is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951 (1951-2012; 0.12 [0.08 to 0.14] ?C per decade)."

The editors of the science journal Nature have criticized the new IPCC report, saying: "Scientists cannot say with any certainty what rate of warming might be expected, or what effects humanity might want to prepare for, hedge against or avoid at all costs."

Meanwhile, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reports: "This summer, Arctic sea ice loss was held in check by relatively cool and stormy conditions. As a result, 2013 saw substantially more ice at summer's end (2.07 million sq. miles), compared to last year's record low extent. The Greenland Ice Sheet also showed less extensive surface melt than in 2012. Meanwhile, in the Antarctic, sea ice reached the highest extent recorded in the satellite record."

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October 20, 2019, 6:10 pm PDT

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