Permafrost – the thick layer of permanently frozen soil found in Arctic regions – has been thawing rapidly over the past century due to climate change. When permafrost thaws unevenly, it produces thermokarst landscapes, irregular surfaces of small hills interspersed with hollows. The processes that produce thermokarst can lead to significant changes within the surrounding ecosystems, altering water quality, vegetation, and water, carbon, and nutrient storage and flows. These changes can have substantial implications for fish and wildlife populations and disrupt rural communities and infrastructure.
The goal of this project was to better understand the extent of thermokarst processes and the rate at which they are happening under climate change in northern Alaska. Researchers used a combination of mapping, literature review, and consultations with wildlife experts to assess thermokarst extent; possible impacts on fish, wildlife, and habitats; and the strengths and weaknesses of current and past efforts to monitor thermokarst. Researchers used these insights to develop and propose a plan for monitoring thermokarst on the North Slope of Alaska, a means to supply information that will build understanding of how climate change is reshaping the region’s landscape and living things.
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“Thermokarst lakes on Flaxman Island, AK - Credit: Bruce Richmond & Ann Gibbs ”