The United Nations issues yet another code red alert on the release of methane from what has been permanently frozen soil.
“I can see the changes, it’s devastating. I don’t even know if I can communicate the magnitude of how this is impacting people. They are literally having to prop up and raise their houses (off the collapsing ground). This is something they might have done in the past maybe once a year, and now they're doing it five times a year because their houses are tilting,” she describes.
Dr. Natali explains that the thawing permafrost is also causing fuel storage units to collapse, and she notes that landfills that had once been in dry areas are now leaking waste and toxic materials such as mercury into lagoons and rivers.
“Rivers are where people get their water and their fish, so there are human health impacts… The thawing it is also causing some river banks to erode making it harder to access clean water,” she adds.
Another problem is that many communities move across the land in the winter using frozen rivers and lakes that are not “freezing” enough anymore.
“This is not only a health risk, but it is also impacting people’s accessibility to food. There are so many things going on… this is a multifaceted problem impacting both natural systems and social systems… This is something that is a reality now for people who are living in the Arctic, and it's been a reality for a long time.”
Plant and animal material frozen in permafrost – called organic carbon – does not decompose or rot away. But as the permafrost thaws, microbes begin decomposing the material and release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
“Permafrost contains organic soil that’s been building up for thousands and thousands of years. It’s a fossil carbon pool that it hasn’t been part of our earth system for many thousands of years,” Dr. Natali emphasizes.
Dr. Sommerkorn adds that even under low levels of global warming, permafrost thawing could represent the emissions of a medium-sized country.
“And they could grow much more… that is what we know. What we don’t know is how much of that will be compensated on-site. So how much more new plants will be growing on permafrost soils? Taking that carbon back in? But these emissions will be coming,” he explains.
These rodents may be the reason Norway has one of the world's most radioactive glaciers
Researchers found a tributary of Hardanger Glacier in Norway to be one of the two most radioactive glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere. Norway's soil was poisoned by the Soviet regime due to the explosion and meltdown at Chernoble along with nuclear test explosions on Russia's Novaya Semlya island by the Soviet Army.
The poisoned soil is less of a problem now than it was, but radioactivity also settled on nearby glaciers where the substance was frozen under snow and ice. Isotopes of caesium and plutonium are not found in nature but were found in abundance on the glacier.
When organic matter such as microbes, soot, and dust lands on snow and ice, they darken the surface. The sun warms the dark specks enough to melt surface ice in a feedback loop that creates cryoconite holes filled with water darkening the surface even more and increasing the melting of ice caps.
The dark substance of organic matter inside cryoconite holes on Hardanger Glacier was found by researchers to have a vile stench confirming that large parts of the "stinking cryoconite come from something alive – either plants, microorganisms or animals."
Polish researchers noticed a strange phenomenon on the surface of the darkening glacier.
A whole lot of dead Norwegian lemmings are scattered around on the ice. The scientists also find remains of the small rodents, which were beginning to resemble the black dust.
In the samples of the dust from the pits in the ice, they find something that distinguishes this glacier arm of the Hardanger Glacier from many other glaciers.
“Lemmings eat grass and blueberries and absorb radioactivity,” says Łokas.
The radioactivity simply accumulates in the small bodies.
Nesje confirms that there are a lot of lemmings on Blåisen Glacier.
“We found lots of dead lemmings scattered around on the ice. They strayed out onto the glacier and then they didn’t get off in time and died of cold or hunger. In a lemming year, it’s packed with lemmings,” says the UiB scientist.
When the small rodents die out on the glacier, the surface darkens and the sun heats the ice more. The bodies remain in the holes and decompose.
The bulk of the animal rots away, but the radioactive substances don’t disappear.
Since the substances don't disappear, the isotopes wash away into nearby fjords and rivers, putting human and animal populations at risk.
Consider this diary as just a scratching of the surface on the unfolding disaster in the Arctic. I will be posting more information as so much more has gone wrong for just one diary.