Permafrost thawing in Batagaika Crater

Context
The Batagaika crater situated in Russia, is the world’s largest one kilometre-long permafrost crater, is expanding at a baffling rate due to the thawing of the permafrost. This has been exacerbated by global warming. What is Permafrost?
  • Permafrost is any ground that remains completely frozen — 32°F (0°C) or colder — for at least two years
  • Permafrost is most common in regions with high mountains and in Earth’s higher latitudes — near the North and South Poles.
What Is Permafrost Made of?
  • Permafrost is made of a combination of soil, rocks and sand that are held together by ice. The soil and ice in permafrost stay frozen all year long.
  • Near the surface, permafrost soils also contain large quantities of organic carbon—a material leftover from dead plants that couldn’t decompose, or rot away, due to the cold.
  • Lower permafrost layers contain soils made mostly of minerals.
  • *A layer of soil on top of permafrost does not stay frozen all year.
  • *This layer, called the active layer, thaws during the warm summer months and freezes again in the fall.
In colder regions, the ground rarely thaws—even in the summer. There, the active layer is very thin—only 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters). In warmer permafrost regions, the active layer can be several meters thick.
Why Permafrost thawing occurs?
  • As Earth’s climate warms, the permafrost is thawing. That means the ice inside the permafrost melts, leaving behind water and soil.
  • Thawing permafrost can have dramatic impacts on our planet and the things living on it.
Why the Permafrost thawing is a ‘matter of concern’ in Batagaika crater region?
  • The crater is located in the Sakha Republic of Russia and reaches depths of up to 100 metres.
  • In the 1960s, after deforestation led to the melting of the underground permafrost, it caused the land to sink.
  • Over the years, the crater has only expanded and is locally called ‘the cave-in’ or ‘mega-slump’ by scientists.
  • Russia is warming about 5 times faster than the rest of the world. As a consequence, the long-frozen tundra that covers 65 per cent of the country’s landmass is melting.
  • The soil beneath the slump contains dangerous amounts of organic carbon that will be released into the atmosphere as the permafrost thaws, further fuelling the planet’s warming.
  • This is releasing greenhouse gasses like methane stored in the thawed soil which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
  • The thawing permafrost causes very tangible, immediate infrastructural damage as well such as buckling roadways, splitting houses, and disrupting pipelines.
Do you know?
  • NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, mission orbits Earth collecting information about moisture in the soil.
  • It measures the amount of water in the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of soil everywhere on Earth’s surface.
  • It can also tell if the water within the soil is frozen or thawed. SMAP’s measurements will help scientists understand where and how quickly the permafrost is thawing.

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