Nunataryuk - Permafrost Thaw and the changing Arctic coast, science for socioeconomic adaptation

Hugues.Lantuit [ at ]


Arctic permafrost coasts make up 34% of the world's coasts and represent a key interface for human-environmental interactions. These coasts provide essential ecosystem services, exhibit high biodiversity and productivity, and support indigenous lifestyles. At the same time, this coastal zone is a dynamic and vulnerable zone of expanding infrastructure investment and growing health concerns. Permafrost thaw in combination with increasing sea level and changing sea-ice cover expose the Arctic coastal and nearshore areas to rapid changes. In some places, coastal erosion rates now exceed 20 meters per year. This trend is likely to trigger coastal landscape instability and increased hazard exposure, as well as dramatic consequences for the Earth’s climate and the Arctic nearshore ecosystem. On the global level, the release of organic carbon previously frozen in permafrost and its transformation into greenhouse gases may push the global climate warming above the 1.5 °C targeted in the COP21 Paris Agreement. Yet, these projections do focus solely on the vertical release of greenhouse gases from permafrost thaw and do not include the lateral transfer of organic matter from land to sea or subsea permafrost degradation. Indeed, these processes are still not accounted for in global climate and Earth System Models informing the IPCC process. On the local level, Arctic residents are directly impacted by rapidly changing conditions at the coast; Permafrost thaw leads to destabilization of infrastructure and natural resource extraction facilities, directly impacting the economy. Greater fluxes of sediment and organic matter from coastal erosion can impact the nearshore ecosystem, including aquatic resources important for the subsistence economy. Permafrost thaw also impacts the health of Arctic coastal communities through changes in water quality and the potential release of contaminants, frozen bacteria and anthrax. Yet, all of these issues have so far been considered in isolation and have not been addressed in an integrated research framework. The pressing challenge is therefore to quantify and project organic matter, sediment and contaminant fluxes from thawing coastal and subsea permafrost and to accurately assess the implications of permafrost thaw for the indigenous populations, the local communities and the local environment in the Arctic coastal areas. The main goal of the Nunataryuk project is to determine the impacts of thawing land, coast and subsea permafrost on the global climate and on humans in the Arctic and to develop targeted and co-designed adaptation and mitigation strategies.

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Conference (Talk)
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Research Networks
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5th YES Congress, 09 Sep 2019 - 13 Sep 2019, Freie Universität Berlin.
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Lantuit, H. (2019): Nunataryuk - Permafrost Thaw and the changing Arctic coast, science for socioeconomic adaptation , 5th YES Congress, Freie Universität Berlin, 9 September 2019 - 13 September 2019 .

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