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Published on Nov 23, 2016
Permafrost is ground that is frozen for two or more years. In the Arctic, discontinuous regions of this saturated admixture of soil and rock store a large fraction of the Earth’s carbon – about 1672 petagrams (1672 trillion kilograms). As temperatures increase in the Northern Hemisphere, a lot of that carbon may be released to the atmosphere, making permafrost an important factor to represent accurately in global climate models. At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a group led by James C. Stegen periodically extracts permafrost core samples from a site near Fairbanks, Alaska. Back at the lab in southeastern Washington State, they study the cores for levels of microbial activity, carbon fluxes, hydrologic patterns, and other factors that reveal the dynamics of this consequential layer of soil and rock.