Melting Permafrost Could Affect Weather Worldwide By Margaret Kriz Hobson


The Yukon River Basin has been collecting large amounts of calcium, magnesium and sulfates over the past 30 years because of thawing permafrost. The river flows northwest through Alaska, and empties into the Bering Sea (which is along Alaska’s southwestern coast.) The water then flows to the Arctic Ocean, and can then start to affect the ocean’s circulation and what chemicals it’s made out of it allows mineral and nutrient filled waters to move through rivers, groundwater, and then into the Arctic Ocean. From there it ends up changing the chemistry of the water within its own ecosystems and could possibly lead to changes in currents and weather patterns over the world.

The Yukon river goes through periods of freezing and unfreezing during the year, and when it isn’t frozen, the riverbank and areas around it are eroded quite easily. This leads to large amounts of phosphorus entering the water and eventually flowing into the Arctic Ocean. Permafrost is already wearing downs in this area, and is completely changing the way ecosystems work in the northern hemisphere. The changes of mineral composition in the water will cause huge changes within the entire Arctic and may have consequence for the carbon cycle, animal and marine life habitats, and other important parts of the ecosystem.


If permafrost continues to melt at the same rate it is, it can have huge effects on freshwater ecosystems and communities that depend on fish and other wildlife such as places near the Yukon River Basin in Alaska. If the it is continued to be eroded, the sediments may block streams or redirect them into different areas. This might have an economic effect on the Yukon region if they rely on things like fish to sustain their income. Communities in Alaska rely on fishing as their main source of economic stability, and if the fishing industry goes, so does their entire economy. Another issue this causes is that if there is a continuous increase in minerals like phosphorus, certain areas may become eutrophic. The increase in algae will eventually cause hypoxia and all the organisms in that ecosystem will from lack of oxygen, thus creating a dead zone. This will make it impossible for any organisms to live there and significantly decrease the amount of living areas for fish.

In general, the thawing of the permafrost is clearly an effect of global warming. The temperature has been getting warmer, and the permafrost has been melting increasingly faster because of this. This thawing can cause huge problems for people in Alaska because permafrost makes up a major part of their landscape. They usually only get a few inches of precipitation per year, but frozen layer provides a sort of safety net for the water, and makes the water sit at the surface which nourishes that plants. Furthermore, there are certain plants that actually insulate the permafrost and keep it from melting. If the temperatures keep increasing, the permafrost will melt little by little, and won't be able to sustain these insulating plants. They in turn, won’t be able to insulate the permafrost anymore which will lead to it melting even more.

"Drunken Trees"

Once the permafrost starts to melt, the ground will become soft and start to sink. This is already beginning to happen and we are starting to see areas where trees are tilted because of the moving ground. There are also places where houses are misshapen and leaning against one another as an effect of the melting permafrost.

My "Takeaway"

I think that there are many global issues that are important, but we hear about them in the news all the time. It's very unusual to hear a major news story about a specific effect of global warming in a certain area. I've never heard a story on the news about Alaska and I think it's important to bring awareness to effects of global warming that are less known.

From what I have researched, there isn't a huge amount of research on how thawing permafrost affects the composition of nutrients in areas like the Yukon River Valley. There has been specific research done for it, but it's not extensive. Although I don't live in Alaska, I think it's important they they start to look into this, because if permafrost keeps melting, it could have dangerous effects on their economy. Yes, thawing permafrost plays an enormous role in the release of greenhouse gasses. But, the increase of nutrients like phosphorus is already affecting their water, and it's likely that it will start having negative effects sooner rather than later.

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