Permafrost Change and Impacts on Infrastructure and Resources in Alaska: A Synthesis of Past Work

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Permanently frozen ground, known as permafrost, is a critical feature of the Arctic landscape. As temperatures warm, permafrost is thawing, with potentially adverse impacts to infrastructure, communities, and the structure and function of Arctic ecosystems. However, the processes leading to changes in permafrost are not well understood, and there is a need to better understand the vulnerability...

Permanently frozen ground, known as permafrost, is a critical feature of the Arctic landscape. As temperatures warm, permafrost is thawing, with potentially adverse impacts to infrastructure, communities, and the structure and function of Arctic ecosystems. However, the processes leading to changes in permafrost are not well understood, and there is a need to better understand the vulnerability of permafrost to thaw. Addressing these gaps in information regarding permafrost characteristics and dynamics, and what these changes will mean for human communities and ecosystems, will support management and planning efforts.

 

This project seeks to address these gaps through several mechanisms. First researchers have synthesized available information on the impacts of thawing permafrost on infrastructure and ecosystem services. The synthesis on permafrost and infrastructure highlights the need to better integrate data on current and future environmental conditions by bringing together engineers and scientists. The synthesis on ecosystem services, meanwhile, highlights the fact that permafrost is a critical landscape feature that supports drinking water availability, access to hunting and harvest areas, and fish and wildlife habitat.

 

A second component of this project has focused on synthesizing the distribution of surface water in the northern hemisphere in comparison to permafrost characteristics - such as permafrost extent, ground temperature, and thermokarst occurrence. Researchers used Landsat satellite data to identify the locations of water on the landscape and understand areas that have transition from water to land, between 1985 and 2015.

 

Overall, this work helps to improve our understanding of permafrost, its importance to infrastructure and ecosystem services, and how this important landscape feature is changing.