April 28, 2019

According to a new study published in Nature Communications, the Arctic’s thawing permafrost will release methane and carbon dioxide and hugely accelerate global warming. This will cost the world trillions of dollars, unless countries improve on their Paris Agreement commitments.


  • Criteria: Permafrost is any ground that remains completely frozen—32°F (0°C) or colder—for at least two years straight. 

  • Global Distribution: These permanently frozen grounds are most common in regions with high mountains and in Earth’s higher latitudes—near the North and South Poles. 

  • Coverage: Permafrost covers large regions of the Earth. Almost a quarter of the land area in the Northern Hemisphere has permafrost underneath. 

  • Composition: 
    • Permafrost is made of a combination of soil, rocks and sand that are held together by ice. The soil and ice in permafrost stay frozen all year long. 

    • Near the surface, permafrost soils also contain large quantities of organic carbon—a material leftover from dead plants that couldn’t decompose, or rot away, due to the cold. Lower permafrost layers contain soils made mostly of minerals. 

    • A layer of soil on top of permafrost does not stay frozen all year. This layer, called the active layer, thaws during the warm summer months and freezes again in the fall.