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Permafrost – The Cold Hard Facts

Permafrost – The Cold Hard Facts

Permafrost, the ‘frozen soil in a thermal state’, is likely the least studied phenomena in all of the environmental studies to date. After having read a dozen or so peer-reviewed papers, almost in each instance, those papers would include in their introduction or conclusion that more study and grants are needed to fully understand the science.

My purpose for bringing this subject up, is that a AP writer, Dan Joling, wrote a article on Monday, March 28th entitled ,”Warming brings unwelcome change to Alaskan villages.”

Joling, like so many others before him, write about environmental impacts as a result of man-made global warming, without discussing both sides of the story. Facts are rarely used and a single quote or two is made by some noted scientist that warns us that ‘climate change’ is to blame. Joling’s article bares this same resemblance.

The truth is, the town discussed in the article, Kivalina, is a coastal town that suffers from sea wave erosion. The city is currently seeking to relocate because of the erosion and had sued 24 companies in order to relocate. Kivalina cites that greenhouse gases are to blame. Kivalina also claims that a Canadian oil company is responsible for polluting its water source. Currently the suit is under appeal, after having been dismissed.

Neither the subject of sea wave erosion or the class action suits are mentioned in Jolings report, and both of these discoveries could very well contribute to a very different story, if Joling bothered to research the story at all.

Melting permafrost , due to global warming, is only a smoke screen for the real story. Sea wave erosion and soil contamination is more likely the issue, and greed could very well be the motivating factor for the city of Kivalina in order to blame global warming as its cause.

Yet, permafrost and its understanding deserves our attention as more and more stories like this continue to run in the main stream media.

The rest of my post will focus on the facts about permafrost and how some wish to manipulate those facts.

Permafrost – By Definition and Parameters

Permafrost, by definition, is the thermal condition of earth materials, such as soil and rock, that remain below freezing temperatures for no less than 2 years.

The depth and thickness of permafrost may vary from a few centimeters thick to 100s of meters thick and at the depth where permafrost begins can vary from a few centimeters below the vegetation (or better known as overstory), to 100s of centimeters further down. Overstory can change certain aspects of permafrost in regards to duration, depth and thickness.

Understanding the relationship between vegetation and permafrost is a simple one. If vegetation is altered or removed from insulating the permafrost below, a rise in temperature and dissipation will occur over time.

Altitude and latitude, while not wholly a determinate towards defining permafrost in a thermal state, does determine zones in which permafrost exists.

Figure 1

Two terms that define permafrost by zones are known as continuous and discontinuous. A continuous zone is simply a region where permafrost exists throughout without any discontinuity.

Discontinuous regions are described as having areas which persist to have permafrost at various locations and regions, and at different times in the same locations, but not completely cover the area and/or region 100%.

The Natural Resources of Canada website can explain  more about permafrost in greater detail  here.

Figure 2


Figure 3

In the two figures above we have images that show mean annual air temperature. The map on the left is from 1967 and the one on the right is from 2007. While the science of 1967 may have been a bit crude, and the other one 40 years later may display more state of the art graphics, the images bear a similarity in location of the lines in reference to mean annual air temperature at  0 °C . If anything stands out from these two graphs is  the 2007 map shows the line for 0 °C to be lower in longitude in the western part of the graph. For my purposes though, I would just like to point out that the graphs show  mean annual air temperature has virtually unchanged in 40 years. Figure 2 is from a book titled, “Permafrost Second International Conference , 1973.”  Figure 3 is from the NRC(Natural Resources Canada) website.

I would also like to point out that the continuous zone of permafrost bears no continuity with mean annual air temperatures. Looking at Figure 1, we can see that the continuous zone for permafrost crosses several  zones from the southwestern edge of Hudson Bay, traveling northwest into the Yukon Territories.

This a vital bit of information in understanding permafrost. Mean annual air temperature plays a huge role in the creation of permafrost, but it is not the indicator for the zones in which permafrost exist or in its duration.

Permafrost and Its Relationship with Vegetation

Vegetation is our indicator of the existence and duration of continuous permafrost in areas determined to be at or below freezing temperatures at ground level. Without vegetation or overlayer to insulate the permafrost, severe melting and the ecosystem that protects the permafrost becomes compromised.

Both Man and Nature contribute to the disturbance of these ecosystems, and I wish to point out some examples of how these disturbances effect permafrost. Some of these disturbances are  urban sprawl and erosion. While  other factors may contribute to effect permafrost, I just wish to highlight these two instances.

And when I suggest that one of these factors in permafrost disturbances is caused by man, I don’t mean global warming. Let me just clear that up right now.

Permafrost and Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl disrupts environments that have permafrost present. With the removal of vegetation, due to building construction and road building, stabilized areas of permafrost is subjected to exposure, erosion, and flooding.  Areas of permafrost where vegetation created a protective layer from warmer summer temperatures were removed, allowed sever annual melting. Areas of permafrost that has became exposed to flood and/or sewer water,  aggressively melted without protection from the overlayer, and no overlayer to absorb and distribute the water away from the permafrost. As of this writing, there has been no reports of undisturbed permafrost regions in continuous zones, only in areas where flooding, fires and construction take place, do we hear reports of diminishing permafrost layers. As to be expected. Not as some disturbance to an increase in Co2.

I have here a picture of a disturbed permafrost layer near a parking lot adjacent to a building in Fairbanks, Ak.

The caption below it, read as follows,”Thermokarst depression on the edge of the Geophysical Institute UAF parking lot (Fairbanks, Alaska). Surface disturbance related to the parking lot construction triggered permafrost degradation and ground ice melting.”

We can find instance after instance of disturbances just like this throughout the discontinuous regions, where permafrost is effected by urban sprawl. Not global warming.

Permafrost, Erosion and a Backstory

In regards to erosion, I would like to use a story provided by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community. Neal Brown was the researcher in this article:

An Almost Petrified Forest

“A letter received at the Geophysical Institute from Mr. Julius Sesky of Chitina had the notation “unexplained meteoritic(?) site” written at the top. As supervisor of the Poker Flat Research Rocket Range, the letter ended up in my hands, and its contents justified a telephone call to Mr. Sesky for more details.
Sesky told of a mysterious sand-filled depression near Chitina which measures some 200 by 400 feet across and has devastated trees with shattered and missing tops standing in it. The scene was reminiscent, he said, of pictures he had seen of the unexplained Tunguska area of Siberia where a meteorite or comet is thought to have impacted in 1908.
This was enough to pique anyone’s curiosity, and for the next few days I checked with other members of the faculty and staff at the University to get their opinions on what the phenomenon might represent.
Then, one bright Fairbanks morning, my son Kris and I loaded an array of sampling and surveying equipment into the van and drove to Chitina. We found Mr. Sesky having coffee in a local restaurant, and he enthusiastically offered to take us to the site that same evening.
The infamous Copper River wind blasted us with sand as we walked along the river bluff to a point where it was cut open to a depth of about 50 feet by the southern end of the trench we had come to inspect. The first impression that one gets on viewing the scene is that the dead trees protruding from the sand in the trench had been devastated by a gigantic “brush hog” machine that had shorn them off about fifteen feet from the surface. On closer examination, slumping chunks of ground indicated to us that underlying permafrost might have somehow played a role in creating the depression, but it was getting late and we returned to our camp with the initial impression of the site fresh in our minds.
The next morning found us puzzling over the mystery of the trees. It appears that a curious cycle has developed in this isolated site. First, the river encroaches, allowing the surfaces layers of permafrost to melt, freeing the sand. The Copper River winds then pick up grit, dropping it under the effects of the local topography to form a dune on the western edge of the trench. The dune grows to its present 20-foot height and buries the lower parts of the trees. The sand-smothered trees die and the wind shatters their tops and blows them off. The prevailing winds then scoop the sand out from around the dead trees in the trench and progressively build the dune further to the west, where it envelops and slowly kills still more trees. When the sand blows away from around the dead trees, it exposes ground that now lacks insulating mats of vegetation, allowing the underlying permafrost to continue melting, with the result that the dead trees are now protruding from a deepening trench.
Areas in various stages of all the above steps can be identified at the site. At the southern and deepest end of the trench, which opens on the valley, there is only sand, dead fallen trees, and tree fragments. Midway along the trench, at the next higher level, the trees are broken off partway up. At the upper end, most of the trees are covered with sand and their tops are lying nearby.
Thus, a scenario such as that suggested above would account for most of what is found at the site today. Although variations on the major theme may have occurred, the suggested sequence of events would explain much of the continuing process.”

Permafrost- Global Warming Scientists and their Models

Prediction of Permafrost Due to Co2 Click to See Animation

What this above graph suggests is that over the next 90 years. the loss of permafrost will be impacted nearly to the Arctic Coast of North America, because of rising Co2.

It surely isn’t based on historical evidence. Figures 2 and 3 that I have provided show no significant loss of permafrost or mean annual air temperature for over a 40 year period between 1967-2007.

Yet because of some model that uses Co2 as a indicator of permafrost lost and temperature rise, this animated image shows us a radical difference in the next 90 years.

If this matter wasn’t so serious, I would laugh hysterically right now.  We are led to believe that global warming, due to rising Co2 levels has been going on for over a hundred or more years and increased warming is directly related to mans industrialization.

Yet only now.. in our near future, with no historical proof, a model in a box, that other scientists are not allowed to look into, claim this global warming prediction.

With no evidence to suggest otherwise, this whole poppycock notion of predicted rise in global temperatures, concocted in a model and hidden away from being tested or verified by other scientists, makes the whole theory, simply, bullshit.

Permafrost – A Conclusion

My conclusion is that permafrost is currently affected by disturbances, due to environmental imbalances, by man and nature. Not by rising temperatures or rising Co2. Until further studies are concluded or undertaken, to suggest that Co2 is the evil villain, is a fools errand. The science must be tested and verified and checked and rechecked before any conclusion can be made.

But with that being said, I think many climate modelers and the climate scientists that support these claims  need to be held accountable for misleading the scientific community and the general public at large.

I keep hearing about transparency, but I have yet to see any on this matter.

Each and everyone one of us should demand  transparency, if we are to expect any change at all, in this current climate of denial and hypocrisy.

Good Day !


2 responses to “Permafrost – The Cold Hard Facts

  1. Brian H April 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Typo: “is the least studied phenomena”. Phenomenon. That’s one. Phenomena is 2+. The number of people who don’t know that is phenomenal!

    Your article suggests to me we need a new term in the mix to improve precision. I nominate, “impermafrost: sub-soil frost that comes and goes over long time periods.”

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