21 Feb 2012:
Global Permafrost Regions
Depicted in High-Resolution Maps
Swiss researchers have released a series of high-resolution maps depicting the global distribution of permafrost
and highlighting those regions where thawing permafrost as a result of global warming could
have the most profound effects. In a study published in The Cryosphere
, glaciologist Stephan Gruber from the University of Zurich estimated that permafrost regions cover about 22 million square kilometers worldwide — or about one-sixth of Earth’s exposed land surface — including vast regions of Siberia, Central Asia, and the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau (shown at right). Using high-resolution air temperature and elevation data, he produced maps documenting the probability of permafrost, using color-coding to differentiate zones where permafrost is near-continuous and regions where there is currently little permafrost. Thawing permafrost in inhabited regions can cause building subsidence and collapse and can also trigger the release of significant amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. “As a result of climate change, areas with permafrost have a great potential for unpleasant surprises,” Gruber said.
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