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Ambio. 2006 Jun;35(4):190-7.

What determines the current presence or absence of permafrost in the Torneträsk region, a sub-arctic landscape in northern Sweden?

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  • 1GeoBiosphere Science Centre, Lund University, Sweden. margareta.johansson@nateko.lu.se

Abstract

In a warming climate, permafrost is likely to be significantly reduced and eventually disappear from the sub-Arctic region. This will affect people at a range of scales, from locally by slumping of buildings and roads, to globally as melting of permafrost will most likely increase the emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, which will further enhance global warming. In order to predict future changes in permafrost, it is crucial to understand what determines the presence or absence of permafrost under current climate conditions, to assess where permafrost is particularly vulnerable to climate change, and to identify where changes are already occurring. The Torneträsk region of northern sub-Arctic Sweden is one area where changes in permafrost have been recorded and where permafrost could be particularly vulnerable to any future climate changes. This paper therefore reviews the various physical, biological, and anthropogenic parameters that determine the presence or absence of permafrost in the Torneträsk region under current climate conditions, so that we can gain an understanding of its current vulnerability and potential future responses to climate change. A patchy permafrost distribution as found in the Torneträsk region is not random, but a consequence of site-specific factors that control the microclimate and hence the surface and subsurface temperature. It is also a product of past as well as current processes. In sub-Arctic areas such as northern Sweden, it is mainly the physical parameters, e.g., topography, soil type, and climate (in particular snow depth), that determine permafrost distribution. Even though humans have been present in the study area for centuries, their impacts on permafrost distribution can more or less be neglected at the catchment level. Because ongoing climate warming is projected to continue and lead to an increased snow cover, the permafrost in the region will most likely disappear within decades, at least at lower elevations.

PMID:
16944644
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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