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Permafrost is perennially frozen ground, such as soil, rock, and ice. In permafrost regions, plant and microbial life persists primarily in the near-surface soil that thaws every summer, called the ‘active layer’ (Figure 20). The cold and wet conditions in many permafrost regions limit decomposition of organic matter. In combination with soil mixing processes caused by repeated freezing and thawing, this has led to the accumulation of large stocks of soil organic carbon in the permafrost zone over multi-millennial timescales. As the climate warms, permafrost carbon could be highly vulnerable to climatic warming. Permafrost occurs primarily in high latitudes (e.g. Arctic and Antarctic) and at high elevation (e.g. Tibetan Plateau, Figure 21). The thickness of permafrost varies from less than 1 m (in boreal peatlands) to more than 1 500 m (in Yakutia). The coldest permafrost is found in the Transantarctic Mountains in Antarctica (−36°C) and in northern Canada for the Northern Hemisphere (-15°C; Obu et al., 2019, 2020). In contrast, some of the warmest permafrost occurs in peatlands in areas with mean air temperatures above 0°C. Here permafrost exists because thick peat layers insulate the ground during the summer. Most of the permafrost existing today formed during cold glacials (e.g. before 12 000 years ago) and has persisted through warmer interglacials. Some shallow permafrost (max 30–70m depth) formed during the Holocene (past 5000 years) and some even during the Little Ice Age from 400–150 years ago. There are few extensive regions suitable for row crop agriculture in the permafrost zone. Additionally, in areas where large-scale agriculture has been conducted, ground destabilization has been common. Surface disturbance such as plowing or trampling of vegetation can alter the thermal regime of the soil, potentially triggering surface subsidence or abrupt collapse. This may influence soil hydrology, nutrient cycling, and organic matter storage. These changes often have acute and negative consequences for continued agricultural use of such landscapes. Thus, row-crop agriculture could have a negative impact on permafrost (e.g. Grünzweig et al., 2014). Conversely, animal husbandry is widespread in the permafrost zone, including horses, cattle, and reindeer.

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Primary Division
Primary Topic
Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
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Eprint ID
DOI 10.4060/cb6378en

Cite as
Strauss, J. , Abbott, B. , Hugelius, G. , Schuur, E. A. G. , Treat, C. , Fuchs, M. , Schädel, C. , Ulrich, M. , Turetsky, M. R. , Keuschnig, M. , Biasi, C. , Yang, Y. and Grosse, G. (2021): Permafrost / (. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and (. Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (editors) , Recarbonizing global soils – A technical manual of recommended management practices, Rome, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 251 p., ISBN: 978-92-5-134837-6 . doi: 10.4060/cb6378en

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Geographical region

Research Platforms

Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2015_CentralYakutia_Yukechi
Arctic Land Expeditions > AK-Land_2012_Itkillik
Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2014_Lena_Sobo-Byk
Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2019_Batagay
Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2008_Kolyma
Arctic Land Expeditions > RU-Land_2017_Lena_Bykovsky

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