How Permanent is Permafrost?

Marian Grogan, TERC,
Florence Fetterer, NSIDC,
Mark Serreze, NSIDC
Dorothea Ivanova, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University,
Hannah Wilcox, NCAR,
Jeff Weber, Unidata, UCAR,
Betsy Youngman, TERC educational consultant,, contributor

Published: March 2011. Last Updated: April 2011.


A "drunken" forest in the Siberian Arctic. These forests, where the trees are tilting like intoxicated people trying to walk, are a result of thawing permafrost soil. Source: NASA Earth Observatory Article, Science Blog: Expedition to Siberia.

In this chapter, you will utilize Google Earth and team up with fictional students in Chersky, Russia, a small town in Siberia, to investigate possible causes of thawing permafrost in Siberia and other Arctic regions. You will first explore the nature of permafrost: what it is, where it is found, why it is important, and what the effects of thawing permafrost mean both locally and globally. Next, you will use Microsoft Excel to explore soil temperature data from permafrost boreholes (holes drilled into the ground) and surface air temperature datasets from in and around the Chersky region for a 50-year time span. By graphing and analyzing the borehole soil temperature data and comparing it to surface air temperature trends, you can explore possible relationships between temperature changes below and above Earth's surface.

This chapter is part of the Earth Exploration Toolbook. Each chapter provides teachers and/or students with direct practice for using scientific tools to analyze Earth science data. Students should begin on the Case Study page.

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