Integrating permafrost into our global solution for climate change
Woodwell will provide the data we need to address climate change caused by permafrost thaw
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Permafrost is the perennially-frozen ground that underlies the Arctic’s tundra and boreal forests. It consists of soil, gravel and sand, and can contain buried ice as well as the carbon-rich remains of animals and plants that died long ago. When permafrost thaws due to climate warming, the impacts can be catastrophic: the ground can collapse, causing trees to topple and soils to erode, threatening the lives and homes of Arctic residents. But this is much more than an Arctic problem. Permafrost holds twice as much carbon as is currently in our atmosphere — thawing releases greenhouse gasses that further accelerate the climate emergency. If these emissions from permafrost aren’t accounted for, starting today, the 2° Celsius global temperature threshold established in The Paris Agreement may be unattainable. Decision makers need detailed, reliable information on how permafrost thaw will impact us today and for years to come.
Over the next six years, Woodwell Climate Research Center, one of the world’s leading independent climate science institutes, will launch Permafrost Pathways — an ambitious project to connect science, people, and policy to address the local and global impacts of permafrost thaw. This begins with coordinating an unprecedented pan-Arctic monitoring and modeling initiative to generate high-resolution data and up-to-date forecasts of permafrost thaw and the resulting carbon emissions. Next, they will work with policymakers to integrate these insights into critical decisions and actions aimed at limiting the impacts of climate change, and partner with Alaska Native communities to co-create equitable adaptation strategies and advance a just climate adaptation governance framework. Together, they will uncover the missing data necessary to keep global climate goals within reach and move us in a more just, resilient direction.
Permafrost Pathways will employ three key strategies: (1) Coordinating a pan-Arctic monitoring network and modeling initiative to fill critical gaps in our ability to track and forecast permafrost thaw and its resulting carbon emissions; (2) Partnering with Alaska Native communities to co-create equitable, community-driven adaptation strategies and advance a just governance framework to ensure Arctic residents have the resources necessary to confront hazards stemming from climate change; (3) Providing local leaders, national policymakers and international bodies with the data needed to incorporate permafrost emissions into climate mitigation policy and ensure more accurate target-setting for greenhouse gas emissions to control global climate change.
Why will this succeed?
Woodwell's internationally-recognized team is at the forefront of Arctic climate research and policy, and is renowned for its scientific contributions to understanding and predicting the future of Arctic carbon cycling. For this project, they will team up with partners who have a track record of translating science into impact, working successfully with Arctic communities and guiding smart Arctic climate policy. This includes: the Alaska Institute for Justice, Alaska Native Science Commission, John Holdren of The Arctic Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center (a former Senior Science Advisor to US President Barack Obama), and software company Esri — a leader in mapping technology.
Permafrost Pathways will provide the data we need to address permafrost thaw — a critical but often overlooked piece in the fight against climate change.