Permafrost covers 20-25% of the Northern Hemisphere. Recent temperature increase in the Arctic and Subarctic is significantly higher than the global average. Climate simulations predict continuing warming and increased wildfires occurrence. This rapid change is already leading to permafrost degradation, inducing ground subsidence, affecting land usability and stability of infrastructure. An increase in active layer depth leads to increased water retention capacity, alters soil hydrology and groundwater drainage patterns. Besides, large amounts of carbon and other elements, previously trapped in permafrost, are released towards aquatic systems. Microorganisms actively convert newly available highly biodegradable organic carbon into greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4). As permafrost is known to contain vast amounts of frozen carbon, its thawing is a major risk because of the positive feedback on climate. Ultimately, climate change, through permafrost and habitat disturbance, affects local communities built on permafrost. A better understanding of the impacts of permafrost thaw on soils, surface/groundwater (critical zone) and carbon cycle as well as the controlling factors will contribute to the understanding of global climate feedback.
This project aims to understand the hydrological, geochemical, geomorphological, and microbiological, as well as socio-economic impacts of current permafrost thaw dynamics to soils and surface/groundwaters in the Arctic/sub-Arctic.
Our study will focus on the near-surface permafrost-hydrosystem continuum in small watersheds where localised and rapid thermokarst occurrences remain under-studied. The overall objective is to compare different sites across the Arctic with different permafrost settings and degradation stages in Siberia and Alaska. Our multidisciplinary approach includes geomorphology, social sciences, Indigenous knowledge, hydrology-hydrogeology and bio- and geochemistry. The outcome is a better understanding of the evolution of small Arctic/sub-Arctic permafrost watersheds and raising awareness of local communities.
All the communication channels about the impacts of permafrost degradation in the Arctic will be used to improve the communication of this critical issue. Antoine Séjourné is the French representative at the International Permafrost Association council, which has a specific focus for the 2020-2028 strategy plan to improve communication toward the public on permafrost issues (letter of support). The collaboration with the education program of the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS) will be beneficial. The project will be strongly supported by the expertise of our participant institutions (e.g., Diagonale Paris Saclay and Service médiation avec les publics Mission culture scientifique et technologique IRD).
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