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Up north, thawing permafrost causes climate change concerns

February was a wet and snowy month at home


Planet Earth, our little satellite that we all call home, is composed of several broad-ranging geographic regions. Let’s add some varying climate types to those regions. Now we see how the complexities of these broad geographic regions grow.

At one time, I lived and worked in the Chihuahuan Desert, a North American desert that spans two nations and is considered to be part of the temperate zone. It was warm in the summer and we had snow in the winter — just like here in the Grand Coulee. The Grand Coulee, regionally, is part of the Columbia Plateau, dominated by a brush-steppe environment.

If we look at the upper northern latitudes, much further north than our location, or, in some cases, at simply higher elevations, we find a unique geology called permafrost. It’s unique because permafrost is soil, sediment and rock that is frozen solid. The thin upper layer does thaw seasonally. In some regions where permafrost occurs it can be as deep as 700 meters (2,300 feet). The soils that make up permafrost contain large amounts of organic material. Over the past few decades, some regions of permafrost have been thawing at a rapid rate. Climate change is the culprit of this thaw.

The act of thawing permafrost brings about several reactions. Some of those reactions require further research and likely will create some real concerns. The release of greenhouse gases occurs as microorganisms and bacteria go to work on all that thawing organic material found in permafrost soil. Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, as well as other gases are released.

There have been other interesting physical scientific finds too. In some areas of Siberia and Canada, scientists are finding long-buried evidence of past plant and animal life as large areas of permafrost slump down creating massive craters. It’s cautious work because the craters are getting larger and changing quickly.

Those discoveries are great. Yet, as our global climate changes, this thaw will continue. More greenhouse gases will be released and there are only estimates as to how much will be released. Also, the amount of water released from its frozen state is unknown. Some dynamic stuff is going on as the systems of our little satellite, Earth, change.

OK, let’s take a look at our weather results for February. The month was wet with rain and snow. The home weather station recorded 2.63 inches (our official weather station had 2.67) of precipitation and 13.6 inches (our official station had 9.3) of new snow. The high temperature was 45.7˚F on the 17th (all-time high was 61˚F in 1995). The low temperature was 9.9˚F on the 6th (all-time low was -15˚F in 1950). We were below the all-time mean by 4.2˚F. My weather station recorded a mean of 28.5˚F, while the all-time mean is 32.7˚F. In another month I’ll provide some totals for the winter of 2016-17.

So, what can we expect in the near future? Here’s some information from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC). For the three-month outlook for March, April and May the CPC is showing equal chances of “above normal or below” temperatures. As for precipitation, however, the CPS has come up with, “above average” precipitation for its prediction.

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