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Q&A: Observing the scars of the Arctic thaw

Jane Qiu has an interesting interview on Nature News with aquatic ecologist Breck Bowden of the University of Vermont, who is heading up new research looking at what happens when thawing ground in the Arctic begins to fall apart. Here’s an excerpt:

Last week marked the start of a US$5 million project to study the effects of thawing permafrost on ecosystems in the Arctic. Based at the Toolik Field Station in northern Alaska and sponsored by the US National Science Foundation, the project will look at the impact of thermokarsts — the scars and pits left behind as melt water from permanently frozen ground leaks away, and soil and rock collapses in its wake.

The project was inspired by a serendipitous discovery in 2003, says Bowden:

My colleagues and I were flying over the high Arctic in search of research sites. We noted that the Toolik River was brown and muddy, which was odd as it hadn’t rained recently. As we went further upstream, we came to a tiny stream that was washing tons of thermokarst sediments into the river. We were astounded how this tiny feature was influencing the river 40 kilometres downstream. The volume that had been displaced was enough to smother the bottom of the entire river. The sediments would release a lot of nutrients normally locked up in permafrost into freshwater cycles. That’s got to have a significant impact on the ecosystem.

Read the full interview here.

Anna Barnett


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