||This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2007)|
|Wikinews has related news: Scientists warn thawing Siberia may trigger global meltdown|
In geology, permafrost or cryotic soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water 0 °C (32 °F) for two or more years. Most permafrost is located in high latitudes (i.e. land close to the North and South poles), but alpine permafrost may exist at high altitudes in much lower latitudes. Ground ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of the ground material. Permafrost accounts for 0.022% of total water and exists in 24% of exposed land in the Northern Hemisphere.
A global temperature rise of 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above current levels would be enough to start the melting of permafrost in Siberia, according to one group of scientists.
Extent of permafrost 
The extent of permafrost varies with the climate. Today, a considerable area of the Arctic is covered by permafrost (including discontinuous permafrost). Overlying permafrost is a thin active layer that seasonally thaws during the summer. Plant life can be supported only within the active layer since growth can occur only in soil that is fully thawed for some part of the year. Thickness of the active layer varies by year and location, but is typically 0.6–4 m (2.0–13 ft) thick. In areas of continuous permafrost and harsh winters, the depth of the permafrost can be as much as 1,493 m (4,898 ft) in the northern Lena and Yana River basins in Siberia. Permafrost can also store carbon, both as peat and as methane. The most recent work investigating the permafrost carbon pool size estimates that 1400–1700 Gt of carbon is stored in permafrost soils worldwide. This large carbon pool represents more carbon than currently exists in all living things and twice as much carbon as exists in the atmosphere.
Continuous and discontinuous permafrost 
Permafrost typically forms in any climate where the mean annual air temperature is less than the freezing point of water. Exceptions are found in moist-wintered forest climates, such as in Northern Scandinavia and the North-Eastern part of European Russia west of the Urals, where snow acts as an insulating blanket. The bottoms of many glaciers can also be free of permafrost.
Typically, the below-ground temperature varies less from season to season than the air temperature, with temperatures tending to increase with depth. Thus, if the mean annual air temperature is only slightly below 0 °C (32 °F), permafrost will form only in spots that are sheltered—usually with a northerly aspect. This creates what is known as discontinuous permafrost. Usually, permafrost will remain discontinuous in a climate where the mean annual soil surface temperature is between -5 and 0 °C (23 and 32 °F). In the moist-wintered areas mentioned before, there may not be even discontinuous permafrost down to −2 °C (28 °F). Discontinuous permafrost is often further divided into extensive discontinuous permafrost, where permafrost covers between 50 and 90 percent of the landscape and is usually found in areas with mean annual temperatures between -2 and -4 °C (28 and 25 °F), and sporadic permafrost, where permafrost cover is less than 50 percent of the landscape and typically occurs at mean annual temperatures between 0 and -2 °C (32 and 28 °F).
In soil science, the sporadic permafrost zone is abbreviated SPZ and the extensive discontinuous permafrost zone DPZ.
Exceptions occur in un-glaciated Siberia and Alaska where the present depth of permafrost is a relic of climatic conditions during glacial ages where winters were up to 11 °C (20 °F) colder than those of today. At mean annual soil surface temperatures below −5 °C (23 °F) the influence of aspect can never be sufficient to thaw permafrost and a zone of continuous permafrost (abbreviated to CPZ) forms. "Fossil" cold anomalies in the Geothermal gradient in areas where deep permafrost developed during the Pleistocene persist down to several hundred metres. The Suwałki cold anomaly in Poland led to the recognition that similar thermal disturbances related to Pleistocene-Holocene climatic changes are recorded in boreholes throughout Poland.
A line of continuous permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere represents the most southerly border where land is covered by continuous permafrost or glacial ice. The line of continuous permafrost varies around the world northward or southward due to regional climatic changes. In the southern hemisphere, most of the equivalent line would fall within the Southern Ocean if there were land there. Most of the Antarctic continent is overlain by glaciers.
Changes in permafrost extent 
In Yukon, the zone of continuous permafrost might have moved 100 kilometres (62 mi) poleward since 1899, but accurate records only go back 30 years. It is thought that permafrost thawing could exacerbate global warming by releasing methane and other hydrocarbons, which are powerful greenhouse gases. It also could encourage erosion because permafrost lends stability to barren Arctic slopes.
At the Last Glacial Maximum, continuous permafrost covered a much greater area than it does today, covering all of ice-free Europe south to about Szeged (southeastern Hungary) and the Sea of Azov (then dry land) and East Asia south to present-day Changchun and Abashiri. In North America, only an extremely narrow belt of permafrost existed south of the ice sheet at about the latitude of New Jersey through southern Iowa and northern Missouri, but permafrost was more extensive in the drier western regions where it extended to the southern border of Idaho and Oregon. In the southern hemisphere, there is some evidence for former permafrost from this period in central Otago and Argentine Patagonia, but was probably discontinuous, and is related to the tundra. Alpine permafrost also occurred in the Drakensberg during glacial maxima above about 3,000 metres (9,840 ft).
Permafrost thaw versus melt 
The ground can consist of many substrate materials, including bedrock, sediment, organic matter, water or ice. Frozen ground is that which is below the freezing point of water, whether or not water is present in the substrate. Ground ice is not always present, as may be the case with nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and may be present in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of the thawed substrate.
By definition, permafrost is ground that remains frozen for two or more years. Since frozen soil, including permafrost, comprises a large percentage of substrate materials other than ice, it thaws rather than melts even as any ice content melts. An analogy is when a freezer door is left open, although the ice in the freezer may change phase to a liquid, the food solids will not experience a phase change. In aggregate, the food thaws but does not melt. Melting implies the phase change of all solids to liquid.
Ecological consequences 
Formation of permafrost has significant consequences for ecological systems, primarily due to constraints imposed upon rooting zones, but also due to limitations on den and burrow geometries for fauna requiring subsurface homes. Secondary effects impact species dependent on plants and animals whose habitat is constrained by the permafrost. One of the most widespread examples is the dominance of Black Spruce in extensive permafrost areas, since this species can tolerate rooting pattern constrained to the near surface.
Should a substantial amount of the carbon enter the atmosphere, it would accelerate planetary warming. A significant proportion will emerge as methane, which is produced when the breakdown occurs in lakes or wetlands. Although it does not remain in the atmosphere for long, methane traps more of the sun’s heat. The potential for large methane emissions in the Arctic is poorly understood. The United States Department of Energy and the European Union recently committed to related research projects. Preliminary computer analyses suggest that permafrost could produce carbon equal to 15 percent or so of today’s emissions from human activities.
Patterned ground 
Patterned ground is the distinct and often symmetrical geometric shapes formed by ground material in periglacial regions.
Time to form deep permafrost 
|Time (yr)||Permafrost depth|
|1||4.44 m (14.6 ft)|
|350||79.9 m (262 ft)|
|3,500||219.3 m (719 ft)|
|35,000||461.4 m (1,514 ft)|
|100,000||567.8 m (1,863 ft)|
|225,000||626.5 m (2,055 ft)|
|775,000||687.7 m (2,256 ft)|
Calculations indicate that the time required to form the deep permafrost underlying Prudhoe Bay, Alaska was 500,740 years. This extended over several glacial and interglacial cycles of the Pleistocene and suggests that the present climate of Prudhoe Bay is probably considerably warmer than it has been on average over that period. Such warming over the past 15,000 years is widely accepted. The table to the right shows that the first hundred metres of permafrost forms relatively quickly but that deeper levels take progressively longer.
Construction on permafrost 
Building on permafrost is difficult because the heat of the building (or pipeline) can thaw the permafrost and destabilize the structure. Three common solutions include: using foundations on wood piles; building on a thick gravel pad (usually 1–2 metres/3.3–6.6 feet thick); or using anhydrous ammonia heat pipes. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System uses insulated heat pipes to prevent the pipeline from sinking and the Qingzang railway in Tibet employs a variety of methods to keep the ground cool, both in areas with frost-susceptible soil.
The Permafrost Research Institute in Yakutsk, found that the sinking of large buildings into the ground can be prevented by using stilts extending down to 15 metres (49 ft) or more. At this depth the temperature does not change with the seasons, remaining at about −5 °C (23 °F).
Revival of organisms preserved in permafrost 
In 2012, Russian researchers have proved that permafrost can serve as a natural depository for ancient life forms by the reviving of Silene stenophylla from a tissue as the oldest plant ever to be generated from a burrow in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years. The plant is fertile, producing white flowers and viable seeds. The study has demonstrated that tissue can survive ice preservation for tens of thousands of years.
See also 
- Arctic methane release
- Drunken trees
- International Permafrost Association
- Leonard Jaczewski
- Permafrost Young Researchers Network
- Permafrost carbon cycle
- Qingzang Railway
- "Siberian permafrost thaw warning sparked by cave data". BBC News. 22 February 2013. Archived from the original on 23 February 2013. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- Harvey, Fiona (21 February 2013). "1.5C rise in temperature enough to start permafrost melt, scientists warn". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 23 February 2013. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- Tarnocai, C.; Canadell, J.G.; Schuur, E.A.G.; Kuhry, P.; Mazhitova, G.; Zimov, S. (June 2009). "Soil organic carbon pools in the northern circumpolar permafrost region" (PDF). Global Biogeochemical Cycles 23 (2): GB2023. Bibcode:2009GBioC..23.2023T. doi:10.1029/2008GB003327.
- "We do have permafrost in Poland!". Polish Geological Institute. 9 August 2010.
- Andersland, Orlando B.; Ladanyi, Branko (2004). Frozen ground engineering (2nd ed.). Wiley. p. 5. ISBN 0-471-61549-8.
- Sample, Ian (11 August 2005). "Warming hits 'tipping point'". The Guardian. ]
- Schuur, E.A.G.; Vogel1, J.G.; Crummer, K.G.; Lee, H.; Sickman J.O.; Osterkamp T.E. (28 May 2009). "The effect of permafrost thaw on old carbon release and net carbon exchange from tundra". Nature 459 (7246): 556–9. doi:10.1038/nature08031.
- "Thaw point". The Economist. 30 July 2009.
- Sidorchuk, Aleksey, Borisova Olga and Panin; Andrey; “Fluvial response to the late Valdai/Holocene environmental change on the East European plain”
- Yugo Ono and Tomohisa Irino; “Southern migration of westerlies in the Northern Hemisphere PEP II transect during the Last Glacial Maximum” in Quaternary International 118–119 (2004); pp. 13–22
- Malde, H.E.; “Patterned Ground in the Western Snake River Plain, Idaho, and Its Possible Cold-Climate Origin”; in Geological society of America Bulletin; v. 75 no. 3 (March 1964); pp. 191-208
- Grab, Stefan; “Characteristics and palaeoenvironmental significance of relict sorted patterned ground, Drakensberg plateau, southern Africa” in Quaternary Science Reviews, vol. 21, issues 14–15, (August 2002), pp. 1729–1744
- Grosse, G.; Romanovsky, V.; Nelson, F.E.; Brown, J.; Lewkowicz, A.G. (March 2010). "Why Permafrost Is Thawing, Not Melting" (PDF). EOS AGU Transactions 91 (2): 87. Bibcode:2010EOSTr..91...87G. doi:10.1029/2010EO090003.
- C. Michael Hogan, Black Spruce: Picea mariana, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed. Nicklas Stromberg, November, 2008
- Gillis, Justin (December 16, 2011). "As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks". The New York Times.
- Lunardini 1995, p. 35 Table Dl. Freeze at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
- Lunardini, Virgil J. (April 1995). "Permafrost Formation Time" (PDF). CREL Report 95-8. Hanover NH: US Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. p. 18. ADA295515.
- "Russians revive Ice Age flower from frozen burrow". February 21, 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Permafrost|
- International Permafrost Association (IPA)
- What is Permafrost?, Geological Survey of Canada
- Romanovsky, Vladimir E. (13 July 2004). "How rapidly is permafrost changing and what are the impacts of these changes?". Essays on the Arctic. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
- Melting Russian Permafrost Could Accelerate Global Warming - ENS (7 September 2006)
- Smith, Mike W. "Permafrost in Canada". Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University.
- "Earth's permafrost starts to squelch". BBC. 29 December 2004.
- PERMAFROST: A Building Problem For Alaska
- Permafrost Young Researchers Network (PYRN)
- United States Permafrost Association (USPA)
- Conversion Calculator
- Legget, R.F. (1954). "Permafrost Research" (PDF). Arctic (Arctic Institute of North America) 7 (3–4): 153–8. ASTIS record 9741.
- Geophysical Institute Permafrost Lab, University of Alaska Fairbanks