Climate scientists, political experts and environmental justice advocates on Monday announced a major project to better understand the contribution of thawing of permafrost to global warming and to helping Arctic communities cope with its effects.
Led by Massachusetts-based Woodwell Climate Research Center, the $ 41 million 6-year project will fill gaps in Arctic-wide monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions from the thaw of perpetual freezing, which is currently a source of uncertainty in climate models. . The project is funded by private donors, including billionaire philanthropist Mackenzie Scott.
With the Belfer Center for Science and International Relations at Harvard University and the Institute of Justice in Alaska, the project will also develop policies to help mitigate the global impact of permafrost emissions and, at the local level in Alaska, support local communities. that struggle with thawing and the problems that arise from it.
“A good part of that is science,” said Sue Natalie, a permafrost researcher, director of the Arctic Arctic Program in Woodwell and one of the leaders of a new project called Permafrost Pathways. “But really, it’s important for us to make sure that our science is really useful and usable where it’s needed.”
The permafrost, which is at the heart of much of the Arctic and could be hundreds of feet deep, contains the remains of plants and animals accumulated over the centuries. As rapid warming in the region has caused thawing of more than the top frozen layer, organic matter decomposes and releases carbon dioxide and methane.
The permafrost is thought to contain about twice as much carbon as it does in the atmosphere. But as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted last year as part of its Sixth Assessment Report, the size and timing of emissions from the thawing of permafrost are uncertain.
“This uncertainty has been a major obstacle to the inclusion of permafrost emissions in global climate policy, “said Dr Natalie.
John Holdren, the Obama administration’s White House adviser and director of the Arctic Initiative at the Belfer Center, said better measurements used to develop improved models “could help us not only get a better picture of what is happening now, but will give us a better capacity to predict what is likely to happen in the future. “
Thawing permafrost has not only global consequences. Locally in the Arctic, this has made roads, bridges, homes and other structures built in frozen ground unstable and unusable. Melting of permafrost has also led to greater erosion, leading to landslides and floods.
The project will address these issues in coordination with some local Alaskan communities, said Robin Bronen, a human rights lawyer and executive director of the Anchorage-based Institute of Justice in Alaska. Several coastal communities in the state have been trying to relocate for years.
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The project will work to develop a relocation management framework, she said, “to create a process in which communities have the necessary environmental data, based on their knowledge and science, to make these decisions about whether they can to stay there or not they are. “
Dr Natalie said the thawing of the permafrost was already under way and people were affected. “People are moving their houses or they have to build their houses to deal with it,” she said. “And there’s no support for that.”
The project is funded by the Audacious Project, a co-funding group that is an offshoot of TED, the idea-sharing organization.
“It’s a lot of money,” Dr. Holdren said, though perhaps not as much as some think, because $ 41 million has been allocated over six years. “And I think we can do a lot of good with him.”