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  • Writer's pictureConstance Lefebvre

Discover the brand new Arctic Permafrost Atlas!

How much do you know about permafrost? This is the name given to ground that stays frozen all year round. It occurs in polar or alpine regions, where the mean annual temperature is very low. Unsurprisingly, most of the world’s permafrost can be found in the Arctic.

Eroding permafrost coastline on Herschel Island (Canada). Credit: Gonçalo Vieira/Nunataryuk, available at GRID-Arendal resources library.

Permafrost has made headlines a few times in the last decades. Prehistoric mammals have resurfaced from the frozen ground, fur and bones intact! Archeologists have recovered ancient tools and historical treasures from old Arctic communities amazingly well preserved by the ground ice. But in recent years, most permafrost stories are explicitly related to climate change. As temperatures rise in the Arctic, the ground warms up and the permafrost begins to thaw…

Did you know that these frozen soils store vast quantities of carbon? As they thaw out, microorganisms feast on the newly available organic matter and produce methane and CO2, which get released into the atmosphere, turning large expanses of land into sources of greenhouse gas. Arctic wildfires have also been on the rise in these thawing regions, resulting in releases of carbon from peatlands, destruction of ecosystems, and danger to settlements. Did you know that around 5 million people live on the Arctic permafrost? As landscapes change, pathogens re-emerge, and geo-hazards increase, local communities have been forced to adapt their lifestyle and infrastructure to fit the new realities of their daily lives.

Map of permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere. Credit: GRID-Arendal/Nunataryuk, available at GRID-Arendal resources library.

Scientific interest in the region has increased exponentially in the last decades. Many labs and research groups across the world have begun studying the changes brought on by climate change in permafrost regions (including WeatherinGeochemistry and BGeoSys here in Belgium!). New collaborations and international projects got off the ground. One such enterprise is the EU H2020 Nunataryuk project. For the past six years, 26 partner institutes from 12 different countries have worked together to uncover how thawing permafrost on land, along the coast, and below the ocean affect the global climate and the lives of people in the Arctic. The Biogeochemistry and Modeling of the Earth System (BGeoSys) lab at ULB contributed to the project through modeling of subsea permafrost.

As the project draws to a close, Nunataryuk has released the Arctic Permafrost Atlas at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik this October 20th. The Atlas was made possible through a collaboration with GRID-Arendal. In this beautifully illustrated book, you will find everything you ever wanted to know about permafrost (and many things you didn’t know you wanted to know!) Results from the Nunataruyk project are presented through evocative maps and graphs accompanied by plain-language text. The Atlas also features photographs, artwork, and portraits of scientists, community leaders, and more!

The PDF version of the Arctic Permafrost Atlas is free and available on GRID-Arendal’s website here.

Happy reading!

Written by Constance Lefebvre

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