What happens after 1.5°C?
© Global Warming Images / WWF
Thawing permafrost
No one knows for sure what the impact of thawing permafrost will be, but many experts predict a tipping point.
Permafrost contains a mixture of organic material, plants and dead animals that have been frozen since the last ice age 11,000 years ago. As the Arctic warms, permafrost is beginning to thaw. As it thaws, it decomposes and emits carbon, amplifying the climate change that is causing it to melt in the first place.

Effects of thawing permafrost

No one knows for sure what the impact of thawing permafrost will be, but many experts predict a tipping point. Some scientists have come up with the “compost bomb instability model”: the idea is that once permafrost begins to thaw, releasing massive quantities of carbon, permafrost may itself create a negative feedback loop and become a source of heat, causing an increase in soil temperatures, additional decomposition and methane release.

16% to 24%

of Alaska’s permafrost will degrade by 2100 (estimated).

110 to 231 billion

tons of CO2 equivalents could be emitted by 2040 because of thawing permafrost. (If all countries live up to their promises in the Paris Agreement, CO2 equivalents would be about 53 billion tons in 2030.)

Four

ancient viruses have been uncovered in previously frozen soil since 2004.

700 metres

is the depth of permafrost in parts of northern Russia and Canada.
© WWF

19 million square kilometres of land in the northern hemisphere (an area larger than the entire continent of South America) is “influenced” by permafrost. Most of this land is in Russia, Canada, Alaska and Greenland.

Buckling roads, tilting trees and shifting homes

global_warming_images_-_wwf_ww133807.jpg

Nearly 4 million people and 70% of current infrastructure in permafrost regions are in areas where permafrost has a high potential to thaw.
©Global Warming Images / WWF
global_warming_images_-_wwf_ww133808.jpg

Plants, dead animals and organic material decompose as the Arctic warms, emitting methane and CO2.
©Global Warming Images / WWF
global_warming_images_-_wwf_ww170180.jpg

As permafrost thaws, entire communities are having to be relocated because of collapsing houses, roads and schools
©Global Warming Images / WWF