Permafrost Recedes 80 Miles in 50 Years

James Bay, Canada. Image courtesy NASA

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


The southern limit of permanently frozen ground has receded 80 miles north in the past 50 years in Canada—suggesting that permafrost in the James Bay region will completely disappear in the near future.

The researchers measured the retreat of the permafrost border by observing hummocks known as “palsas” that form naturally over ice contained in the soil of northern peat bogs. Palsas harbor distinct vegetation: lichen, shrubs, and black spruce.

Aerial photos taken in 1957 showed palsas present in seven bogs lying between the 51st and 53rd parallels. By 2004, palsas were present in only two bogs. In 2005, the researchers assessed that the number of palsas in these two bogs had decreased over the course of one year by 86% and 90% respectively.

Helicopter flyovers between the 51st and 55th parallels reveal the palsas are in an advanced state of deterioration over the entire James Bay area.

Coauthor Serge Payette notes the average annual temperature of the northern sites he’s studied for more than 20 years has increased 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F). He tells the Université Laval:

“If this trend keeps up, what is left of the palsas in the James Bay bogs will disappear altogether in the near future, and it is likely that the permafrost will suffer the same fate.”

The paper is in Permafrost and Periglacial Processes.
 

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate