World’s permafrost soils are warming with global climate

New research has revealed the pace of change to an environment covering one sixth of Earth’s land.

The world’s permafrost soils, some of which are more than a thousand years old and extend 1.6km (one mile) into the ground, are warming at the same rate as the climate, according to a new study.

Despite a large international commitment to follow the developments of surface-level and atmospheric climate change, there are few international bodies looking at the changes occurring deeper within the world’s soils.

New research by the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost and published in the journal Nature Communications has shown temperature increases in all regions with permafrost soils.

The temperature of the frozen ground at a depth of more than 10 metres (32ft) in both of the Earth’s polar regions has risen by 0.3C between 2007 and 2016.

The temperature of the frozen ground at a depth of more than 10 metres (32ft) in both of the Earth’s polar regions has risen by 0.3C between 2007 and 2016.

According to the scientists, Siberia was the most severely hit, with temperatures increasing by nearly 1C.

Permafrost regions are defined as places where the soil has remained permanently frozen for at least two consecutive years.

In most of those regions, the ice penetrated the ground more than a thousand years ago, holding the rocks and dirt there together with ice.

Although the layer of soil at the top of permafrost regions can thaw during the summer months allowing plants to grow, the ground beneath it is permanently frozen.

Roughly a sixth of the entire land area of the planet is considered a permafrost region – but much of this land is beginning to thaw.


In the Arctic the permafrost provides solid bedrock for cities and is the foundation for buildings, pipelines and ever airports – but global warming is jeopardising the integrity of these constructions.

It is in the Arctic that the most dramatic risks were located by the team.

“There, in regions with more than 90% permafrost content, the soil temperature rose by an average of 0.30C within 10 years,” said the paper’s first author Dr Boris Biskaborn.

Dr Biskaborn is a member of the research group Polar Terrestrial Environmental Systems at the Potsdam facilities of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Germany.

His team found that in northeast and northwest Siberia the temperature increase nudged closer to 1C – a greater increase than the air temperature rise.