Arctic Permafrost Melting

By Cynthia Kirk

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

United Nations scientists say frozen soil in the Arctic that is melting could be increasing the rate of global warming. They say the melting soil could be releasing air-polluting gases that have been trapped for thousands of years. Scientists say the temperature changes in the Arctic could lead to serious problems. The scientists made the statements at a meeting of the U-N Environmental Program's governing group. The group met in Nairobi, Kenya last week.

The Arctic is an area around the North Pole. It includes the Arctic Ocean. It also includes the northern parts of the continents of Europe, Asia and North America. And it includes thousands of islands. The frozen soil in the Arctic is called permafrost. Permafrost is land that stays frozen all year. Almost twenty-percent of the world's land surface is made up of permanently frozen soil. Most of it is in the Arctic.

Scientists estimate that fourteen percent of the world's carbon is stored under the frozen soil. Permafrost has trapped carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases for thousands of years. But as temperatures rise, the permafrost melts. This releases carbon dioxide and other harmful gases. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere and increase the temperature of the earth. The process is called global warming.

Soil in the Arctic is frozen to as deep as one-thousand meters. But rising temperatures can change permafrost into a soft, liquid-like material. Scientists say the melting permafrost is already damaging roads, buildings and structures in Greenland and parts of Russia, Canada and Norway. And they say the problems could have a major affect on the living conditions of native people and Arctic wildlife such as reindeer.

U-N scientists say the political reaction to the problem of melting permafrost is slow. They say they are closely watching the situation in the Arctic. But they say more study is needed.

The Arctic Council is a group that represents the governments and people of the Arctic. Arctic Council ministers are expected to study the dangers of melting permafrost when they meet in Finland in June.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.

Voice of America Special English