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ESA’s Envisat reveal thawing permafrost

Paris, France: Satellite data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Envisat, along with other earth-observing (EO) satellites revealed the changes in land surfaces in high detail at northern latitudes, indicating thawing permafrost.

Permafrost is ground that remains at or below 0°C for at least two consecutive years and usually appears in areas at high latitudes such as Alaska, Siberia and Northern Scandinavia, or at high altitudes like the Andes, Himalayas and the Alps.

Adverse climate change in the Arctic causes the permafrost to melt, which releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, worsening the effects of climate change. Although permafrost cannot be directly measured from space, factors such as surface temperature, land cover and snow parameters, soil moisture and terrain changes can be captured by satellites.  

“Combining field measurements with remote sensing and climate models can advance our understanding of the complex processes in the permafrost region and improve projections of the future climate,” said Dr Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten, head of the Alfred Wegner Institute Research Unit (Germany) and President of the International Permafrost Association.

Last month, more than 60 permafrost scientists and Earth observation specialists came together for the Third Permafrost User Workshop at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany, to discuss their latest findings. “The already available Permafrost products provide researchers with valuable datasets which can be used in addition to other observational data for climate and hydrological modelling,” explained Dr Leonid Bobylev, the director of the Nansen Centre in St. Petersburg.

“However, for climate change studies – and in particular for evaluation of the climate models’ performance – it is essential to get a longer time series of satellite observational data. “Therefore, the Permafrost related measurements should be continued in the future and extended consistently in the past.”

Source: ESA