Alaska Orders Review of All North Slope Oil Wells After Spill Linked to Permafrost

Alaska Orders Review of All North Slope Oil Wells After Spill Linked to Permafrost

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: October 31, 2017 SNIP: Alaska’s main oil and gas regulatory body has ordered a review of all North Slope wells after a spill last spring was connected to thawing permafrost, subsidence and a cracked casing. The emergency order, issued Monday by the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC), said the outer casing that cracked had been set in the permafrost. In April, one of BP’s older wells leaked oil and gas for days before it could be shut down. The company reported that roughly 45,000 kilograms of gas and 63 gallons of crude leaked. According to Alaska Public Media, BP blamed the failure then on a piece of a well casing that buckled under pressure from thawing...
Sinking into the sea: The coastline of the Northwest Territories is  eroding faster than scientists can measure it

Sinking into the sea: The coastline of the Northwest Territories is eroding faster than scientists can measure it

SOURCE: CBC News DATE: October 13, 2017 SNIP: In late August, the temperature of the Beaufort Sea hovers just above 10 degrees Celsius. For some people, the first steps into the water might be invigorating, but if you linger, it becomes stingingly painful — which is why Dustin Whalen came prepared with large rubber chest waders. This was not a personal mission to dip a toe in chilly Arctic waters and come away with photographic proof. On the contrary, the federal government scientist was looking for a time-lapse camera, one of three that met a watery end by the very forces they were meant to capture: rapid erosion on what may be the world’s fastest-disappearing island. “This is our third year trying, and as of today, this is our third year failing,” said Whalen, who works for Natural Resources Canada. “We really can’t predict just how the island will change.” Pelly, the island in question, lies about 100 kilometres northwest of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., a hamlet largely known for its remoteness. The average rate of erosion for an island in this area is about 1.5 metres a year. What they have found on Pelly is that it’s washing away by as much as 40 metres each...
Melting permafrost in the Arctic is unlocking diseases and warping the landscape

Melting permafrost in the Arctic is unlocking diseases and warping the landscape

SOURCE: Vox DATE: September 6, 2017 SNIP: You can find evidence of a changing climate everywhere on Earth. But nowhere are the changes more dramatic than in the Arctic. Our world’s northern polar region is warming twice as fast as the global average. And the consequences are easy to spot. On average, Arctic sea ice extent is shrinking every summer. The Greenland ice sheet is becoming unstable. But perhaps most disturbing are the changes occurring underground in the permafrost. Permafrost is a layer of frozen soil that covers 25 percent of the Northern Hemisphere. It acts like a giant freezer, keeping microbes, carbon, and soil locked in place. Now it’s melting. And things are getting weird and creepy: The ground warps, folds, and caves. Roadways built on top of permafrost have becoming wavy roller coasters through the tundra. And long-dormant microbes — some trapped in the ice for tens of thousands of years — are beginning to wake up, releasing equally ancient C02, and could potentially come to infect humans with deadly diseases. To better understand the strange changes in the permafrost, I spoke with Robert Max Holmes, an earth systems scientist with the Woods Hole Research Center. When I reached him by phone, he was in Bethel, Alaska, a small outpost town 400 miles west of Anchorage, and had just come back from an eight-day research and teaching expedition in the wilderness. A week earlier, Holmes and his students had set up temperature sensors in the soil near their encampment. Their first reading was 0.3°C. “It’s barely frozen. And we just sort of sat there stunned. You don’t...
Alaska’s Permafrost is Thawing

Alaska’s Permafrost is Thawing

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: August 23, 2017 SNIP: In Alaska, nowhere is permafrost more vulnerable than here, 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle, in a vast, largely treeless landscape formed from sediment brought down by two of the state’s biggest rivers, the Yukon and the Kuskokwim. Temperatures three feet down into the frozen ground are less than half a degree below freezing. This area could lose much of its permafrost by midcentury. That, said Max Holmes, senior scientist and deputy director of the research center, “has all kinds of consequences both locally for this region, for the animals and the people who live here, as well as globally.” Even in colder northern Alaska, where permafrost in some parts of the North Slope extends more than 2,100 feet below the surface, scientists are seeing stark changes. Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a permafrost researcher at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, said that temperatures at a depth of 65 feet have risen by 3 degrees Celsius (about 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit) over decades. Near-surface changes have been even greater. At one northern site, he said, permafrost temperatures at shallow depths have climbed from minus 8 degrees Celsius to minus 3. But Dr. Romanovsky said that his and others’ work shows that permafrost “is not as stable as people thought.” Already, thawing permafrost and warmer temperatures are being blamed for rising carbon emissions in the Alaskan tundra, both here and farther north. In a study earlier this year, researchers found that bacterial decomposition of thawed permafrost, as well as carbon dioxide produced by living vegetation, continues later into the fall because freezing of...
Greenland Fires Ignite Climate Change Fears

Greenland Fires Ignite Climate Change Fears

SOURCE: AGU Eos DATE: Aug 11, 2017 SNIP: In a real clash of fire and ice, a massive wildfire in southern Greenland has captured the world’s attention. Although the current fire’s cause remains a mystery, peat from thawed permafrost could be its fuel, said Jessica McCarty, a geographer at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who specializes in geospatial analysis of wildfires. Permafrost, or permanently frozen soil, lies under multiple meters of an “active” soil layer that thaws seasonally. But in certain areas, when ice within the thawing permafrost layer melts, it can expose peat, a material that forms after decomposing plants get smashed down for centuries. The peat is made up of organic matter, most notably carbon, McCarty said. Given how readily it burns, she added, it’s almost like one giant charcoal briquette. If the fire is being fueled by thawed permafrost, there may be underlying climate change implications, McCarty continued. “The climate change [connection] is that there would be no fires here in Greenland if there were no fuel, and the only way that there’s fuel is if the permafrost is [thawed].” “Personally, this is very disturbing to me,” McCarty said, because the fire indicates significant permafrost degradation “sooner than [scientists] thought it would happen.” Researchers project significant permafrost loss in Greenland by the end of the century. Not 2017, she...