News / Science & Technology

Polar Scientist Charts Melting Caused by Climate Change

Expects accelerated thawing to continue unless greenhouse-gas emissions are reduced

Sparse snow patches in Taylor Valley Antarctica may be an important source of moisture for soil ecosystems in this extreme environment.
Sparse snow patches in Taylor Valley Antarctica may be an important source of moisture for soil ecosystems in this extreme environment.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Michael Gooseff follows water to the end of the earth. The Pennsylvania State University hydrologist works in remote regions of the Arctic and Antarctic, where ice and frozen ground are thawing. He expects polar warming and melting to continue at an accelerating pace if no significant reductions are made in climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions.

At the annual convention of the Ecological Society of America in Austin, Texas this week he posed this question: “How are those polar systems responding to climate change?”  

The answer is based on his on-going research into how water crosses landscapes and what happens to it above and below ground.

“In the northern regions, of course, we have sea ice, but a smaller surface area than in the Antarctic where we have very large ice sheets. And that actually plays into the differences in climate change responses that we’re seeing at both of those places.”

According to Gooseff, the two regions also differ widely geologically and ecologically. He says the Antarctic McMurdo Dry Valleys station where he’s based “appears like a polar desert system with open exposed soils, with no vascular plants at the surface and with glaciers coming down from the mountains, whereas in northern Alaska, we have a lot of plants. The tundra is actually dense with vegetation and very green.”

Thawing permafrost creates a formation called a thermokarst, which sends an overload of sediment and nutrients into streams in the Western Brooks Range of Alaska.
Thawing permafrost creates a formation called a thermokarst, which sends an overload of sediment and nutrients into streams in the Western Brooks Range of Alaska.

Gooseff is documenting change over time, by observing patterns in polar rivers, streams and lakes. He recalls a 2003 visit to Alaska’s North Slope, when his team charted the course of an unusual muddy stream.

“We follow this up and finally we found a big gash in the hill slope essentially, and all of this mud pouring out from underneath it.”

Here’s what had happened: A massive ice wedge under the surface had melted, thawing the permafrost and causing the soil above it to collapse. That created a deep gully in the hillside.

A study of historic aerial photos of the area revealed that this dramatic change, as well as similar warming-induced changes to 25 other landscape features, had occurred over just two decades.

Gooseff explains that as water moves through these altered formations, it picks up sediment and nutrients normally locked up in the permafrost. As that flows into rivers, it could affect fisheries and coastal oceans.

The Toolik River thermokarst gully that Michael Gooseff and colleagues discovered just after its formation in 2003.
The Toolik River thermokarst gully that Michael Gooseff and colleagues discovered just after its formation in 2003.

Gooseff says the melting permafrost sets up another dangerous climate scenario.  “As we warm, we release more carbon, that carbon goes into the atmosphere, contributes to more warming, contributes to more permafrost degradation and the cycle sort of continues. In fact, permafrost itself is expected to hold about twice as much carbon as we currently have in the atmosphere.”

At the opposite end of the earth, near the McMurdo Dry Valleys station, Gooseff studies snow patches. Not much snow falls in Antarctica, but what little there is collects in cool shady spots, behind rocks and hills. These patches insulate the soil and may provide small amounts of moisture for microbes below.  

Gooseff says the melt from this frozen precipitation, as well as from older snowpack and glacier ice, is happening faster and is more widespread than a decade ago. The remote sensing devices his research team has deployed are helping to track how that water moves across the land.

“We expect that there are going to be patterns in both time and space that will be somewhat predictable.”

Gooseff hopes his research of climate change at the poles underscores the regions’ interconnectedness with a global climate system that affects everyone on the planet.

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid