DATE: January 24, 2018
SNIP: A short drive north of Fairbanks, Alaska, there’s a red shed stuck right up against a hillside. The shed looks unremarkable, except for the door. It looks like a door to a walk-in freezer, with thick insulation and a heavy latch. Whatever is behind that door needs to stay very cold.
“Are you ready to go inside?” asks Dr. Thomas Douglas, a geochemist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Behind the door is a geological time bomb, scientists say. No one knows exactly how big the bomb is. It may even be a dud that barely detonates. But the fallout could be so large that it’s felt all around the world. Now there’s evidence that, in the past few years, the bomb’s timer has started ticking.
All around are signs of extinct creatures. Tusks poke out of the ceiling and skulls stick up from the floor. But it’s the material between the bones that interests Douglas the most: the permafrost.
For the first time in centuries, the Arctic permafrost is beginning to change — rapidly. It’s warming up. Some places are softening like a stick of butter left out on the kitchen counter.
In northern Alaska, the temperature at some permafrost sites has risen by more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1980s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in November. And in recent years, many spots have reached record temperatures.