Throughout the span of human civilization, permafrost has covered about a quarter of Earth's land surface. A report out of the University of Exeter claims our grandchildren may witness the permafrost all but vanish, effectively, in the human context, for good.
...even with optimistic estimates of future carbon emissions -- areas covered by periglacial zones will reduce dramatically by 2050, and they will "almost disappear" by 2100.
This would have a major impact on landscapes and biodiversity, and could trigger climate "feedbacks" -- processes that can amplify or diminish the effects of climate change.
"The results suggest that profound changes can be expected in current periglacial zones regardless of climate change mitigation policies," said Dr Juha Aalto, of the University of Helsinki and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
"Unfortunately, it seems that many of the frost-driven processes we studied are already at the margin of the climate in which they can exist."
The scientists studied four processes which take place in periglacial zones, including snow accumulation sites and "frost churning" -- which refers to mixing of materials caused by freezing and thawing.
"Our results forecast a future tipping point in the operation of these processes, and predict fundamental changes in ground conditions and related atmospheric feedbacks," Dr Aalto added.