Arctic Wildfires Destroy Carbon Sinks, Cause Sinkholes

Arctic Wildfires Destroy Carbon Sinks, Cause Sinkholes

The Arctic is a complex and carefully balanced ecosystem. However, due to rapidly increasing temperatures causing an increased rate of wildfires in the region, that balance is in danger. When wildfires occur in the region, they most often burn through peat moss and permafrost, both of which act as carbon sinks.

Additionally, permafrost -- which makes up "half of Canada's land and 80% of Alaska's" -- is suffering from thermokarst, or thawing that results in massive sinkholes. Some of these sinkholes are up to "100 feet wide and 10 feet deep" and continue to grow over time, causing further destruction through massive landslides.

Why This Matters

Climate change is disproportionately affecting the Arctic region, with certain areas of the tundra heating up four times as fast when compared to other parts of Earth. Within the scientific community, the Arctic is regarded as a "canary in a coal mine" when it comes to climate change data. Meaning, the region serves as a warning system -- environmental changes that occur there will echo globally.

Some scientists believe they have underestimated the actual effects of permafrost melting, which include increased wildfires and increased carbon emissions. Not only does a melting permafrost destroy part of an intricate ecosystem that has the ability to sequester carbon (the Arctic permafrost stores nearly 1,700 billion metric tons of frozen and thawing carbon), "the warming top layers of the soil open up to hungry microbes, which consume nutrients and give off CO2."

Sky News: What thawing permafrost has to do with climate change, July 21, 2021.

Communities In Crisis

Ultimately, the rapid melting of permafrost is leading to the destruction of homes and communities of those 4 million people living within the Arctic. Scientists say 70% of infrastructure is at risk of being critically damaged from permafrost melt, which could cost "tens of billions of dollars" in damages and make the region uninhabitable for humans.

BBC: Scientists say vast areas of Siberia are thawing with "devastating consequences," September 18, 2020.

BBC: Siberia's 'gate to hell' is getting bigger, July 27, 2020.