From rapid regional warming to rising sea levels, the state of Alaska is on the frontlines of climate change in many ways. However, the most alarming impact of all may be the region’s melting permafrost, reports Henry Fountain in this New York Times interactive. Permafrost, a frozen layer of ground that can extend hundreds of feet down, contains vast amounts of carbon. As the permafrost thaws, microbes convert some it into the greenhouse gases, carbon-dioxide and methane.
Regional warming in sub-Arctic Alaska is expected to bring near-surface temperatures above freezing around the middle of the century, threatening to unleash those heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere – and potentially spurring even more warming. That’s why scientists from Woods Hole Research Center are studying the melting permafrost to better understand how it will affect the local landscape as well as the global mix of greenhouse gas emissions.